A PRIVATE system to deal with potential complaints by Yarm residents about councillors' conduct or their handling of controversial planning matters is under consideration.

If agreed, the Press could be excluded and residents would apparently be advised not to seek publicity before an investigation.

A complaints system with a committee or panel is being considered by Yarm Town Council, which is conscious of the conflicting needs to balance confidentiality with public openness.

Its fortnightly formal meetings are open to the public and Press, and other exploratory and informal discussions are private. This can be quite proper and happens at other councils.

Likewise, the town council is governed by laws and regulations, including those of the new, National Standards Board, specifically regarding councillors' declaration of interests and allegations of misconduct.

At the council's latest meeting, a debate on handling complaints focused on two main issues.

The first was whether councillors who are initially approached individually by residents should refrain from subsequent council debates or participate, after declaring an interest.

Council clerk Peter Woods said to councillors: "If you declare an interest, you would not take part in the discussion at Yarm Town Council. If you're approached by members of the public, you can say you cannot discuss the matter with them."

Chairman Coun Liz Marsden said: "If councillors are approached, they should also tell the council, so it covers their back."

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