As you might expect from time to time, I actually fire off the odd email or two, in order to better understand situations, as you might guess quite a few go unanswered.
So its no surprise, that Richard Samuel TDC's Chief Executive, was a recent recipient of one of my rather blunt communications, concerning TDC’s Blogging protocol.
Mr Samuel has been kind enough to reply and his response seems balanced given the potential awkward and emotive issues involved.
For context, I also reproduce my uncharacteristically pompous email:-
Dear Richard Samuel
I understand that Thanet Council is in the process of drawing up a protocol concerning what councillors can and cannot say in print or to be more precise on Weblogs.
Thanet appears to be alone in this, as I understand there already exist strict guidelines from the Standards Board of England, which cover what councillors' should or shouldn't say, so it would seem such efforts are at best wasteful and at worst an infringement of the European Convention on Human Rights article 10.
What really concerns me, is how the public perceive, such initiatives, since a number of complaints appear to have been made specifically toward Labour councillors, it gives or could give the impression that such a policy would be partisan.
Thanet Council surely has bigger challenges not least in sorting out some astonishing planning cock ups, asset disposals and the massive shortfall in revenue likely in the coming years.
Could you confirm whether TDC is to pursue its "blogging protocol" and since this concerns the neutrality of officers maybe you could answer it yourself.
Regards tony flaig Bignews Margate.
Richard Samuel’s Reply:-
Dear Mr Flaig
I have of course been following the local commentary on the Council's considerations on blogging and I am pleased to try to put the record straight on what we are trying to do.
First can I say categorically that we are in no way trying to restrict the right to free speech as some people have suggested. Blogs are a fact of life and increasingly an alternative to the traditional media. Like every other public organisation Thanet Council recognises that these new
forms of communication are developing rapidly and can often have a role as opinion formers in local communities.
Second we need to look at the role of local councillors as bloggers. What councillors do in their roles as community representatives is already regulated by the national law and through the rules of the Council's own constitution. The principle source of reference is the Code of Conduct for councillors which all councillors have to agree in writing their compliance with when they are elected. The code is
reproduced in full at Page 239 of the constitution which I provide thelink to http://www.thanet.gov.uk/pdf/Constitution%20-%20May%202008_updated.pdf.
You will see if you read the Code that Councillors must behave in particular ways when they are exercising their roles as councillors.
Following a spate of exchanges between councillors on local blog sites over the past year I felt that better guidance needed to be given to councillors on what was and was not acceptable in terms of running a blog site (six councillors do) and in posting comments. I therefore discussed the need for this guidance with the Leader of the Council and
the Leader of the Opposition and it was agreed that the Council would prepare some guidance for councillors for consultation and discussion.
We are now nearly at the point where the Standards Committee will consider the first draft at their meeting on September 8th. The report will be publically available and of course the meeting is held in public. I envisage that the Standards Committee will agree to a period of consultation before deciding the final version for consideration by Full Council.
I hope this clarifies the position. Please feel free to reproduce on your blog site.
Thanet District Council