Members of the Bexley Council Monitoring Group (BCMG) have suggested to me that something must be afoot with Bexley council’s perverse policy, no, I mean rule book issue, by which their consent to allowing a question at a Full Council meeting is conditional on them publishing the questioner’s name and address on the world wide web. It’s probably unwise for anyone to assume anything where Bexley council is concerned and the BCMG’s advice to me when I first bumped into them to remember that Bexley’s default position is to “lie and cheat” has too often been correct. Nevertheless they point to the following recent developments.
• A letter seeking the reason for the address policy sent to chief executive Will Tuckley on 11th December 2012 was answered on 4th January but only to the extent that he said “The Council's agreed protocol currently requires the names and addresses of individuals submitting public questions to Council meetings to be published in the agenda” which strongly suggested that he had no reasonable answer. A follow up question remains unanswered.
• A telephone enquiry to the Information Commissioner at the beginning of February extracted from them the opinion that Bexley council’s cavalier attitude towards data handling was was “a clear breach” of the Data Protection Act.
• By the middle of February the BCMG had submitted at least two questions for the next Full Council meeting which included a request for them not to publish their addresses. A definitive response is still awaited.
• By the end of February Bexley council had withdrawn its Constitution from its website. It is still unavailable.
• On 1st March at my meeting with former Bexley police Commander Victor Olisa, his DCI, expressed shock when learning of the council’s policy having previously pointed out that releasing addresses not normally in the public domain can have unfortunate consequences.
• On 4th March the BCMG asked Bexley council why its proposed questions to council had not been either accepted or rejected. By then one was two full months old, the others nearer six weeks.
• Ten days later the BCMG was once again advised by the Head of Committee Services that he was not yet in a position to give an answer.
The ICO’s formal response to Bexley council’s probable law breaking will be a long time coming as such decisions always are and the Constitutional Review Panel has not sat for 23 months and no future meeting is planned.
According to the Head of Committee Services “the Constitution Review Panel has delegated authority to officers to make such changes”. It must be hoped that freed from the malevolent intentions of council leader Teresa O’Neill the officers will feel they are able to take full account of all the relevant laws of this country. Something that O’Neill too often in the past has felt does not apply to her.
Or maybe the BCMG is guilty of counting too many chickens.