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Home   Ashford   News   Article

New Ashford Borough Council rules were not brought in to silence critic Ted Relf, says Mayor of Ashford Cllr David Smith

28 March 2014
by Suz Elvey

A plumber who is well-known for criticising the council believes he is responsible for changes to the way members of the public can ask questions at its meetings.

Ted Relf frequently fires questions at councillors and officers and has been stopped from speaking for talking longer than the allocated time or going off topic.

Now Ashford Council has announced that from April all public questions need to be submitted word for word in advance of meetings, along with a detailed summary of any supporting statement people wish to make.

Council critic Ted Relf

Council critic Ted Relf

The Shadoxhurst resident received a letter from the council’s head of legal and democratic services informing him of the changes.

Mr Relf told the Kentish Express he believes the alterations came about as a result of him asking tricky questions about benefits at the last full council meeting.

He said: “Of course they’ve done it because of me, I caught them on the hop. They tried to shut me up at the last meeting but I just kept on.

“Why make it more difficult for someone who has concerns? It doesn’t matter how nonsensical it is, if someone has gone to the effort of going along to a meeting to ask a question they shouldn’t be discouraged.”

But he conceded: “I don’t mind providing the extra information if what I say at meetings is recorded correctly.”

In October 2012 Mr Relf posed six questions in one full council meeting on subjects as diverse as new housing, a council-funded shower block at a caravan site and the number of parish council meetings attended by the chief executive.

Mayor of Ashford Cllr David Smith, who deals with public speakers when he chairs full council meetings, said: “We’ve had an informal procedure, which most people follow, where you have a few minutes to make your point and then you can ask your question.

"The problem is some people, not just Ted, deviate from it. They could be asking a question about parking and they’ll start talking about council housing.

Mayor of Ashford, Cllr David Smith

Mayor of Ashford, Cllr David Smith

“Sometimes they could submit a question, an answer is prepared by officers and councillors, and then a different question is asked. It makes all of us look silly, so we’re tidying up the process. People can still ask a supplementary question, which will be answered then or in writing later.

“I like the questioning time. In Ted’s case you’ve got somebody who’s interested in what we do as a council. There may be some criticisms but I’m not worried about that. We enjoy his questioning and we enjoy answering them. We just want to help people like Ted make sure they’re asking the right questions to get the answers they want.”

Ashford Council spokesman Dean Spurrell said: “It’s not so much a change to the way people can ask questions at public meetings, it’s just an improvement to the process by which they do so.

“The changes have been introduced to improve the procedure and ensure the public and councillors get the most out of the process.”

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