A WOKINGHAM council meeting was halted last night after it was found to be in breach of its own rules.
While the leader of Wokingham Borough Council says it was down to an honest mistake, an opposition councillor says that it has acted unethically as it violated the constitution.
On Monday, January 11, the Standards Committee, which monitors councillors’ behaviour and ensures they are following the code of conduct, was curtailed following a point of order.
Earlier in the meeting, resident Philip Meadowcroft tried to highlight that there were too many members of the council’s executive on the committee, contravening the constitution.
But it wasn’t until Cllr Imogen Shepherd-Dubey (Lib Dem) raised a point of order over the issue that the meeting was adjourned.
Then committee members Cllr John Kaiser, executive member for finance and housing and deputy leader of the council, and Cllr Wayne Smith, executive member for planning and enforcement, were both present, as was Cllr John Halsall, leader of Wokingham Borough Council, who chaired the committee.
But according to point nine of the constitution, the Standards Committee must comprise “six elected members of Wokingham Borough Council, and only one of those elected can be a member of the executive”.
It also states “the leader of the council is not entitled to be a member of the Standards Committee”.
Cllr Imogen Shepherd-DuBey, ward councillor for Emmbrook, said it is “outrageous” that this has not been spotted sooner, and she fears that the council may have been operating dishonestly.
She is also worried that it has been able to “sweep complaints against councillors under the carpet”.
“It’s fairly obvious that some decisions have been dealt with inappropriately for some time, and this affects the way that our council operates,” she said.
“The executive is marking its own homework basically, and is controlling what’s going on.”
According to Cllr Halsall, nobody, including officers and opposition councillors, had spotted that the committee was in contravention of the council’s constitution until last night, adding that its current make-up had been in place for 21 months.
He added that all decisions made by the Committee had been ratified by a previous full council meeting, with no concerns raised.
“We thank Mr Meadowcroft for bringing this to our attention,” he told Wokingham.Today
“We have no idea how we missed it, it is a genuine mistake, and we’ve immediately resigned from the Committee and asked officers to check all other committees.
“By the next full council meeting on Thursday, January 21, we will have a full committee in place.”