York censored video latest: ‘Reinstate the cuts or I’ll call an emergency council meeting’

The York council chamber at Guildhall. Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr
4 Apr 2016 @ 5.30 pm
| News

An independent councillor has said he will be forced to call an emergency council meeting if the video of a previous meeting is not reinstated in full.

As we reported last week film of the previous meeting of the full City of York Council was edited before being uploaded to YouTube.

York citizen Gwen Swinburn’s address to councillors over a critical auditor’s report about the authority was removed. So was the chair of the meeting Lord Mayor Sonja Crisp’s interruptions of Ms Swinburn and order that she be removed from the council chamber.

You can see before and after videos here.

The decision to cut the video was taken without consulting councillors, several of whom have contacted the council’s interim chief executive Steve Stewart to ask what was going on.

One of them was Mark Warters, independent member for Osbaldwick. Dissatisfied with the response he has now taken the issue one stage further.

In another email to Mr Stewart, he wrote:

I write to formally request the reinstatement of the full, uncensored/unedited version of the Full Council Webcast of the 24th March 2016 to the CYC website.

The agreed deadline for officers to take this action is 5.00pm on Wednesday 6th April 2016, failure to meet this deadline will lead to action being taken to formally request an Emergency Full Council Meeting to discuss this issue.

I am sure you realise the strength of feeling on this matter by elected members and I trust this clear request will be complied with in the interests of good governance and transparency.

Council’s response

This is what Mr Stewart wrote in his reply to Cllr Warters:

I agree that City of York Council should strive to be transparent and open and encourage debate and discussion through its public meetings to express views positive or negative about the performance of the council. Debating key decisions forms the basis of our democracy and should always be encouraged.

We know the importance of this issue, but we must adhere to our Council Procedure Rules and we must protect our staff when these rules are breached.

The Council Procedure Rules do not allow anything which is deemed defamatory or discriminatory or which criticises or makes any personal attacks on an officer.

We are considering how much of the webcast can be reinstated. As such we have spent some time reviewing the full footage and have concluded that it does breach our Council Procedure Rules in parts of the footage.

The decisions taken during the meeting were within the Lord Mayor’s authority to make as Chair of the meeting. In their capacity as chair, they have full discretion to ask a member of the public to leave the meeting if they breaching any of the Council Procedure Rules above.

Another councillor who asked for an explanation, Cllr Paul Doughty of Strensall ward, replied to Mr Stewart that it has taken a full working week for officers to consider the legal implications.

He wrote:

It is simply not sufficient to use this as a catch-all to prevent reinstatement without then explaining fully to Members exactly what parts have breached Council procedure rules and for what reasons.

I expect you will be providing this information to Members so that we can all be satisfied and to ensure the public can have the confidence that the Council is being as transparent as is legally allowed when the webcast is ‘reinstated’.

Green Party leader Cllr Andy D’Agorne agreed. He said:

Failure to abide by procedures is what brought us to the situation referred to in the public interest report, so it is even more pertinent that procedures blocking the broadcast of public comment should in themselves be properly adhered to.