Friday, March 03, 2006

Meetings, bloody meetings...

The title comes from a training video I used to show in the 80s when I was National training Officer for Eighteen Plus. When I say video, I actually mean 16mm film because it was getting on a bit. It starred John Cleese (who started Video Arts, the Training production Company) and emphasised the importance of making sure meetings achieved their outcomes.

One of our more peculiar traits of the Morley Town Council (of which I am a Member) is to vote on items without having discussed them very much, which strikes me that it probably means that some Councillors don’t necessarily understand the whys and wherefores of what is proposed, let alone the unintended consequences. One such example was the March Full Council meeting where in amongst the business was a proposal to set up some form of executive body for strategic planning along with a reduction in Council and Committee meeting frequency to bi-monthly (with the exception of planning, which continues to meet twice a month as it needs to do so).

Now the scheme may have considerable merit and be blindingly obvious to the people that created it but conveying that across in a short written report with a list of cascading recommendations and then moving into voting on it without discussion suggested to me that people were restless in their seats and were keen to get on home or onto the refreshments rather than actually discuss what it meant.

I had a number of half formed concerns that I wanted to express, but being only allowed to make one speech, was waiting for others to make points that would swing my views accordingly. However, I was waiting in vain!

Needless to say, the topic got bogged down in confusion, but was eventually passed with something of a minority, there being a lot of abstentions along the way.

At the end of the meeting, another Councillor commented that if we had “Group meetings”, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. However, I think that would cure the symptom, not the problem. What is the point of having several Group meetings where political parties make up the minority?

The six Labour members obviously have a Group meeting, as they vote the same way and look to key individuals for guidance. They also seem to abstain a lot, which is puzzling. An abstention is something of a wasted vote, as the majority is based only on yes or no votes. Does it mean “I don’t know?”, or “I don’t care?”?

The two Conservatives could have a Group meeting over a cup of Coffee or anything else, as they are married to each other (and infrequently seen together at full Council anyway, due to childcare etc.)

The five Morley Borough Independents regularly have Group meetings anyway, because they are all on Leeds City Council as well, although only one of them actually stood as an MBI on the Town Council.

The other eleven Councillors are truly independent with a wide range of views, leanings and alliances. Whilst there is often a common consensus of outcome for the good of the Town, the approach varies from libertarian to idiotarian, with a pinch of statism for good measure. Holding a Group meeting for such a bunch is a bit like herding cats!

Cat herding, though, is attempted because it is the traditional thing to do. There are regular Group meetings and I have been along to a couple of them but I have also felt an unease as the undercurrent seems more to be not losing face to the others by being poorly prepared, such as someone not being primed to Second a set of Minutes.
The trouble with having pre-meetings to decide a position on an issue is a two-fold problem; it is behind closed doors and it closes minds by falling back into the adversarial trap of political point scoring rather than consensus through rational discussion. The solution is simple- the pre-meeting should happen in the Council Chamber on the night. Proposals sometimes need a presentation and time for questions of clarification before debating the merits.

A lot of time at last night’s meeting was wasted re-enacting the battles of the Letters to the Editor page in the Morley Obtiser. Fortunately, the Press and most of the Public had gone home, the two remaining being used to the cut and thrust of small town politics which substitutes the Sabre for a traffic cone...

No comments: