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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Public permitted to question MEA council for the first time

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council council chamber

Members of the public will be able to have their questions answered directly about council issues for the first time at this month’s meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, at The Braid in Ballymena, on Monday evening.

In a change of protocol and as part of a “good governance” report, residents will now be able to submit questions in advance of full council meetings each month.

The local authority is also considering establishing a community forum for participation by local residents “to enable more community involvement in strategic issues”.

Fifteen minutes will be set aside at meetings each month for the public’s questions to be answered by the mayor, a committee chair or individual councillors. Questions may be submitted by those who live, work or study in the borough.

Anyone who wishes to ask a question must give written notice of the question to interim chief executive Valerie Watts by noon on the fifth working day prior to the meeting. The person’s name and address must be supplied with the question.

An individual can attend the meeting to ask the question although it may not be altered. If an individual does not attend, an officer will ask the question. Just one question may be submitted to a meeting. The name of the person asking the questions will be published on the council’s website.

If the number of questions received exceeds the allocated slot for answers, a written answer will be provided within five working days.

Questions will be rejected if they are outside the council’s jurisdiction; if they are considered to be “illegal, improper, irregular, frivolous or offensive”; similar to another put to the council within the previous six months; if they would disclose “confidential or exempt” information; relate to planning law or licensing application; if related to a matter of which a response has already been given through the complaints procedure; related to a personal matter or due to length, unintelligible or considered to be a speech.

Speaking at a recent meeting of the borough council. Knockagh Alliance Councillor Aaron Skinner said: “I think it’s a fantastic idea.”  He added that he wished to second the proposal.

Councillors also heard officers will be available to provide support in drafting short answers so there is “no panic on the night in terms of information that you might require to have at your fingertips to answer any questions that members of the public may ask subject to them being accepted questions”.

Knockagh DUP Cllr Peter Johnston stated:

“I think this is excellent.” He went on to say that in a report to councillors, it talks about “building up that trust again with the public”.

“I am sure we can all recall times when someone has said ‘you tell that council to do x, y and z’,” he added.

“This is the perfect example where we can bring democracy right to the heart of the community and allow those people to share their concerns, ask their questions and actually, now more than ever, this is going to be more important for us going forward, so I will very gladly propose.”

Cllr Skinner continued: “There is so much experience in this council area that we don’t have in this room and this gives an opportunity for people to come before us and share what their thoughts are.”

Commenting after the meeting, he added: “I hope lots of our residents, community groups and businesses take the opportunity to engage directly with council and I hope we can open this up further in the future.”


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