To extend my recent blatherings about St Mellion Parish Council, I thought I’d do a short post on the recent issue the council had to address in order to remain quorate. First though, what exactly does “quorate” mean?
In order for an organization or government body to conduct business, there must be sufficient eligible voters present. The exact terms of how many, or what ratio of overall voters depends on the constitution of the organization. Once that number or ratio of voters is present, business can be conducted. The meeting is deemed to be quorate.
In the specific instance of St Mellion Parish Council, three councillors of the overall six must be present and eligible to vote in order for the meeting to be quorate. This led to an interesting situation at the last public meeting when, without Christine’s knowledge of the law, the council would have found itself unable to form a quorum on what was a hugely important issue to many of the parishioners. So how did this come about and how was it resolved?
At the last meeting, five of the six councillors were present; Ian Waite having expressed apologies as he was on holiday. Unfortunately the biggest item on the agenda was the Dunstan Quoin Solar Farm and four of those present had already declared a pecuniary interest in that project. An interest in this context is a legal term to mean a person has a potential conflict between expressing their personal opinion and expressing the opinion of the electorate. Hence the term, “A conflict of interest”. With only five councillors present and four of them excluded by declared pecuniary interests, the council found itself with only a single eligible voter, Ken Henley, and hence, totally inquorate! This was a ridiculous situation for the council to be placed in and serves to demonstrate the demographic imbalance on the council when four of the six members share almost identical pecuniary interests. So what was the solution?
The solution was for two of the councillors to request dispensations, thus enabling them to participate in a vote regarding a subject thay had previously declared a pecuniary interest in. In order for this to work, the logistics had to be carefully planned, such that a quorum could be formed to vote on the dispensations and subsequently, following approval of those dispensations, a quorum could be formed to vote on the Solar Farm planning. I assume there was a closed meeting, prior to the public meeting to grant the councillors time to work out exactly who would apply for dispensations and who would consequently approve them. The decision reached was:
Geoffrey Postles and Anita Brocklesby applied for dispensations, leaving Jean Dransfield, Steve Todd and Ken Henley to form the quorum that approved them. This left Geoffrey, Anita and Ken eligible and quorate to vote regarding the Solar Farm.
If Steve Todd or Jean Dransfield had also applied for dispensation, the council would have been inquorate to approve the dispensations. If Geoffrey Postles or Anita Broklesby had exclusively applied for dispensation, the council would have been inquorate to vote on the Solar Farm. It was that close to the council being inquorate on potentially the biggest issue of the year! I’m actually surprised the dispensations process worked. Jean and Steve voted on the dispensations of Geoffrey and Anita, despite them having declared pecuniary interests in the subject that were granting dispensation on! This is a farcical legal loophole in a process designed to prevent expression of personal interest.
The conclusion of business was that Geoffrey, Anita and Ken formed a quorum and voted to deny planning for the Solar Farm. This was the best outcome as it clearly represented the majority view of the electorate. It served though to very effectively demonstrate that we now have a Parish Council that is unable to vote on matters relating to St Mellion Park, simply because four of the six all have declared interests in it. The dispensations worked on this occasion but it’s far from clear if that loophole can be employed every time without objections being raised.