PRESSURE is building for meetings of Swindon Council to be filmed and broadcast on the internet to improve councillor’s behaviour after council leader Rod Bluh admitted he “lost it” and effectively branded a resident a NIMBY during a full meeting.
Coun Bluh (Con, Old Town) said he told Croft School campaigner Kareen Boyd that she only cared about what she could see out of her window, and not about children’s education, after she shouted out a comment on the controversial school from the public gallery of the Civic Offices, in Euclid Street at a meeting last Thursday.
The result of the incident, which provoked Mrs Boyd to make further comments, was that Mrs Boyd was asked to leave the meeting, while Coun Bluh later retracted the comment and apologised.
Coun Mark Dempsey (Lab, Walcot and Park North) says the incident adds weight to his campaign for meetings to be broadcast – and he says the wider audience would improve councillors’ conduct, as well as rebuild public trust and encourage engagement with council decisions.
Officers are currently working up a study into the feasibility of webcasting meetings.
Coun Dempsey, the deputy Labour group leader, said: “There are too many Conservative politicians who rely on personal abuse rather than coherent argument and I think if council were recorded then that would stop forever.
“And I think that it’s important that we open up council meetings to the public and start to build trust in parties and that’s what webcasting meetings would give people.
“Meetings should always be passionate and should be a proper debate of the key issues affecting the town but I think that when they aren’t recorded, there’s a danger that arguments are dismissed with insult rather than argument and that’s not a good thing.
“If it was recorded, I think you would at least be held to account for the way in which you conduct yourself and the arguments you use to defend you recorded.”
Coun Stan Pajak, the Lib Dem group leader, said there was some “schoolboy behaviour” at meetings which was the nature of politics, but said he supported webcasting, provided the cost was right, adding: “If there were cameras in council meetings, I suppose it may encourage people to behave better and it may be that the public would go to make a point, knowing they would get it on camera.”
Coun Dale Heenan, cabinet member for strategic planning and sustainability, said: “Several, but not all, Labour councillors spent most of last Thurday’s meeting laughing, joking, interrupting ignoring facts and using emotive language in their debates.
“This raised the temperature of the meeting for everyone and after three hours, Labour got the reaction they wanted when the council leader made a mistake after he was interrupted once again.
“Unfortunately this time it was a resident, Coun Bluh apologised at the time, and again the following day.
“For the councillor for Park North and Walcot to twist around this cajoling as the Conservatives’ fault is cheeky, but to claim filming council meeting will stop this behaviour is naive.”