A COUNCILLOR displaying a sign supporting a ward resident was threatened with removal from a meeting this week.

Cllr Paul Bennett appeared via Zoom at the full meeting of Malvern Hills District Council with a sign in the background saying “re-home Chrissy Hopcut now” - this being in relation to a ward resident who is having problems with housing.

Because of this, council chief executive Vic Allison called for Cllr Bennett to remove the sign, saying it was inappropriate. He said: “It has come to my attention that Cllr Bennett is showing a sign behind him which we feel is not appropriate for the council meeting. Can I ask that Cllr Bennett takes the sign down please?”

Cllr Bennett replied questioning the legal basis for the request, and deputy monitoring officer John Teasdale replied saying it was inappropriate.

He said: “I think what you are trying to do here Cllr Bennett is put a message across and that falls into the category of irregular conduct contrary to part four, paragraph 18 of the constitution so I echo Vic’s words and ask you to take it down please.”

Refusing to take the message down, Cllr Bennett informed the council he would turn his video off and continue with the meeting.

Procedures for council meetings, as explained by council chairman Dean Clarke at the start of the meeting, are such that any activity which would not be tolerated in a meeting held in-person should also not be tolerated in a video meeting.

The meeting then continued for another 20 minutes before Cllr Clarke invited Cllr Bennett back in. He said: “Cllr Bennett by his actions seems to be excluding himself from any further participation in this meeting.”

He was informed by Mr Teasdale that if councillors are taking part in meetings, they need to be visible.

When invited back to the meeting, Cllr Bennett said: “I am sorry but I have got something on my wall which has nothing to do with the council which I am being asked to take down, which I find offensive.

“There has been no legal justification for this, so how come my rights as a councillor to represent my residents are not being considered.

"You are asking me to censor something I have got on my wall which does not refer to anything on the agenda or anything related to this council.”

Cllr Clarke suggested temporarily covering up the sign while the meeting was going on, but Cllr Bennett refused to do so, forfeiting his right to vote on any of the agenda items.

The full meeting can be watched again at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpjJO77Zjhg

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Clarke said: “All councillors have been reminded they need to display the same kind of conduct in virtual meetings as they would in physical meetings and Cllr Bennett is well aware of this.

"The message Cllr Bennett was displaying was inappropriate and relates to a matter that is already being dealt with.

"His behaviour would not have been accepted in the Council Chamber.

“Cllr Bennett initially chose to turn his camera off and as a result excluded himself from voting instead of agreeing to remove the message.

"He was not at any point bullied, but given appropriate and reasonable advice by officers, which I fully support.”

Cllr Bennett added: “I put up the message on my wall to make one last appeal to officers to help and instead of any helpful response I was told to take down this simple appeal on behalf of one tenant or be excluded from the meeting.

"I was not allowed to be seen and had to agree not to vote. I do not see any legal basis for what happened and put this down to another attack on democracy and my job to represent people who suffer because authority no longer cares and will not tolerate being shown up as powerless."