St Albans councillor walks out of meeting

THERE was a stormy scene at the council chamber in St Albans last week when a councillor suddenly walked out of a meeting after being denied permission to speak.

Lib Dem Cllr Rod Perks was recently embroiled in a legal wrangle over comments he and former councillor Melvyn Teare made in support of residents and businesses in Marshalswick South, which has since been amicably resolved out of court.

He wanted to talk at Wednesday’s full St Albans district council (SADC) meeting about the need to clarify councillors’ rights and what backing they would receive should they also be threatened with legal action.

At the start of the meeting, Cllr Perks stood up and said he was staying long enough to make a protest but would, “shortly be taking my leave of the chamber”.

He added: “I shall not be apologising for my absence.”

But when Cllr Perks attempted to continue speaking he was interrupted several times by the new Mayor of St Albans, Cllr Eileen Harris, who said, “this isn’t the time” and as Cllr Perks did not have permission to speak, he should sit down.

After commenting on the “deplorable absence of support from council officers” Cllr Perks walked out of the meeting.

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Chief executive Daniel Goodwin told stunned members that Cllr Perks’ comments had been, “totally unexpected”.

He explained the first part of SADC’s meeting was, “simply for apologies. It would not be appropriate for us to have a further statement from a member about something else.”

After the meeting, Cllr Perks explained it was “unacceptable” for councillors to, “personally face the consequences of actions taken as elected representatives on behalf of residents.”

While refusing to comment on record about the legal wrangle, Cllr Perks said he had protested about the absence of support from SADC.

He added: “I haven’t resigned from the council; I was making my protest in order to bring it to the attention of all councillors.”

Cllr Perks warned other members they might also be threatened with legal action when speaking out on behalf of residents.

After the meeting, two senior Lib Dem councillors commented on the issue. Cllr Chris Brazier said: “If councillors are defending residents, they should have some sort of public liability insurance. It’s not clarified what protection we have got. What is to stop people suing us?”

He called upon the council to make clear what legal protection members have, and what support officers would offer if they found themselves in a similar position to Cllr Perks and Mr Teare.

Group leader, Cllr Robert Donald, said councillors should be able to support the democratic rights of residents without fearing legal repercussions.

A spokesperson for SADC said: “The council has insurance in place that can help to protect elected members when they are working on behalf of the council.

“It is not able to offer legal or insurance protection for members who are operating in a private capacity or on behalf of an external body such as a political party”.