By Local Democracy reporter Jordan Ifield
A Thanet councillor left a transport meeting in protest because a Kent County Council officer wasn’t present to answer questions.
Thanet District Council’s joint transport board meets four times a year and councillors talk about issues with a Kent County Council (KCC) officer. Usually this would be Paul Valek, KCC’s Highways District Manager.
On Thursday 9 July the board were due to discuss a 30mph speed limit on Nash Road in Margate among other topics.
However the meeting was quickly derailed after councillors realised a KCC officer wouldn’t be present, without sending apologies for absence.
This enraged Thanet Cllr Trevor Shonk (Cons) who left the meeting and said it was “disgraceful”.
He said: “I’ve got a whole raft of issues to discuss, there’s no point in me sitting here because there’s no officers to talk to, so therefore I shall pack up and go home.
“It’s absolutely disgraceful that we give up our time and I’ve heard excuses from KCC that they can’t come out because they’re cold. These people are on different planets.
“I do try to represent Ramsgate and Newington and at the moment I’m hitting a brick wall.”
Thanet District Council meetings are regularly livestreamed to the authority’s Youtube channel so members of the public can watch.
However unlike other councils, Thanet doesn’t have the technology to simultaneously hold a livestream of the meeting and have someone speak virtually.
This means anyone wanting to speak at a Thanet council meeting must attend in person and on this occasion no one from KCC did so.
Other council members were further damning of the situation, including chair of the committee and KCC Cllr Rosalind Binks (Cons) who said: “I believe in the Elon Musk view if you don’t turn up on a Monday we’ll assume you’ve resigned.
“Officers should be here, I know it’s inconvenient to come in the evening but I think it’s part and parcel of the job at a certain level.”
She did also confirm her quarrel wasn’t with officers, but the KCC cabinet member for transport, Cllr David Brazier, who she claims told officers not to be present.
Signing off the meeting Thanet Cllr David Hart (Cons) said: “I think it’s disgraceful the officer isn’t here, but maybe the cabinet member (Brazier) should be here instead.
“Realistically someone should be here, because if we do have an issue I can go to an officer and I was going to talk to them about a couple of things tonight.
“If the cabinet member wants to stop his staff coming here then maybe they should get off his back side and come here.
“The officer we have is a very good chap, works very hard for this area and we are very lucky to have him, but I think he’s doing a disservice by not turning up.”
‘Effective use of staff time’
Responding to the issue a Kent County Council (KCC) spokesman said the decision wasn’t made by Cllr Brazier: “Decisions on managing the most efficient and effective use of staff time are taken in every local authority by senior officers, not council members.
“As a council we are committed to participating in Joint Transportation Boards (JTBs), which are a vital mechanism for discussing how we can develop our infrastructure to help keep Kent moving safely.
“Technology allows us to do this virtually for routine business in a way that is environmentally friendly and reduces the amount of time travelling to and from meetings.
“Unfortunately, Thanet District Council is currently unable to offer KCC a virtual platform while simultaneously livestreaming the meeting to the public.
“While we will always address any concerns raised at Joint Transportation Boards (JTBs) outside of the meeting, we would encourage Thanet District Council to introduce a system that allows KCC’s virtual attendance.”
No ability to host hybrid meetings
Meanwhile a Thanet District Council spokesman said it would “encourage” anyone wanting to speak to the council should do so in person:
“We livestream all of our public council meetings so that as many members of the public as possible can view proceedings. There is often a high level of interest in the items discussed at the Joint Transportation Board (JTB) meetings.
“We do not have the ability to conduct ‘hybrid’ meetings (meetings with virtual and in person attendees that are also simultaneously live-streamed to the public). To do this would require significant levels of financial investment in our audio-visual equipment.
“In June 2021, KCC officers remotely accessed a Thanet Joint Transportation Board (JTB) meeting, which meant that we were unable to livestream the meeting, thus depriving members of the public the opportunity to observe.
“As we are unable to facilitate hybrid meetings, we would always encourage external participants to attend JTB meetings in person to present their reports and take questions from Councillors.”