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Uphold the Constitution: Letter to District Auditor Andy Mack sent 14 May 2009

May 15, 2009 9:26 AM

I am writing to ask for an investigation into the actions of Shepway Council, which last night knowingly breached its own constitution. The Monitoring Officer Jeremy Chambers and Chief Executive Alistair Stewart both accepted that an amendment to the constitution which was proposed (by the Leader of the Council) and passed was in breach of the procedures of the Constitution, but asserted that Council had the right to do so. I do not agree.

The Council's constitution is available at http://www.shepway.gov.uk/content/view/1541/1718/

Article 1.1 states:

"The council will exercise all its powers and duties in accordance with the law and this constitution."

Article 15.3 of the Constitution states;

"15.3 CHANGES TO THE CONSTITUTION

"a) Changes other than the amendments referred to in Article 15.3, to the constitution, will only be approved by the full council after consideration of the proposal by:

"Part 1 - Summary and Explanation: Constitutional Advisory Committee

"Part 2 - Articles of the Constitution: Constitutional Advisory Committee

"Part 3 - Responsibility for Functions: Constitutional Advisory Committee"

The motion proposed by Cllr Robert Bliss and backed by all Conservative Councillors read:

"1. To receive and note Report A/09/01.

"2. To adopt as Part 3 of the Council's Constitution the appendix to this report;

"3. To designate the Community Overview Committee as the Council's crime and disorder committee under section 19 Police and Justice Act 2006 and to amend the Council's Constitution to reflect this as set out in paragraph 3 of this report.

"4. To instruct the Monitoring Officer to make the necessary amendments to the Constitution to ensure that:-

(a) The main opposition party retains the right to Chair the Corporate Scrutiny Committee in circumstances where they have 20% or more of the overall membership of the Council;

(b) Where the main opposition party has less than 20% of the overall membership of the Council, the Chair of the Corporate Scrutiny Committee will be determined by the committee in the same manner as other committees of the Council.

"5. To instruct the Council's Constitutional Advisory Committee to undertake a review of the Constitution taking into account the remaining observations from when this matter was considered by Council on 29 April 2009, (i.e. all the observations except the one relating to the chairmanship of the Overview and Scrutiny Committees) and to report back with recommendations to the September Council meeting."

As revisions had not been considered by the Constitutional Advisory Committee, points 2, 3 and 4 were against the Council's constitution. Votes called by the Liberal Democrats and People First to remove the unconstitutional sections were defeated by the Conservatives.

You can confirm that the Constitutional Advisory Committee has not even met since September 2007 at http://www.shepway.gov.uk/webapp/cads/index.php?committee=costitutional%20advisory

I am writing to ask if you, as District Auditor, will undertake an investigation into this clear breach of the Council's own procedures, and confirm if the motion was legal, within the Council's own rules, and in line with best practice, as I believe you to be the relevant authority in this matter.

If you feel unable to do so, can I ask that you advise who the appropriate body to investigate this matter, as it seems to me completely inappropriate that the Council can make decisions by a process which is specifically not allowed within its own procedure rules. To do so brings the Council into disrepute, and makes the Constitution itself worthless.

Thank you in advance for your time.

Regards,

Tim Prater

Shepway District Councillor for Cheriton