“As a councilor, we have been chosen to make decisions even in difficult times and under difficult circumstances. We owe this to our democracy and our citizens. “That is how the Zoeterwoude municipality defended its decision to continue the council meeting on Thursday evening. This is despite the fact that the groups of CDA, VVD and Seniorenbelangen Zoeterwoude (SbZ) had already indicated that they would boycott these because of the corona crisis.
Ultimately, the meeting was canceled because the board’s quorum – the mandatory number of councilors, half plus one – was not met. As a result, the meeting still takes place a day later. This is permitted under Article 20 of the Municipalities Act.
The boycott is still standing: only two members of Progressive Zoeterwoude have indicated that they are present. If that does not sound strange enough: according to article 20, these two members are now allowed to make decisions as if they represent the entire city council. Going through the meetings led to anger from the other council parties: “I think it is too outrageous for words,” VVD leader Mathieu Paardekooper told Leidsch Dagblad on Thursday, “Public health should not be secondary to the meeting. And the world does not end when I see what agenda items need to be discussed. ”
It may be outrageous, but it is allowed, Geerten Boogaard knows. He is professor by special appointment of decentralized authorities at Leiden University. Nevertheless, he describes the situation in Zoeterwoude as “completely unnecessary power play by the mayor”.
Mayor Liesbeth Bloemen misuses the article of law, he states: “That law was once devised to ensure that a city council cannot be held hostage by a majority who decides to be absent. Or if a bomb has fallen and the quorum is really unfeasible. The route she chooses now produces legally valid decisions, but with zero democratic value. ”
Boogaard would still understand if crucial decisions had to be made. “When an important deadline would be missed, for example. But then you only have to make a decision about that part and leave the rest of the agenda for a while until the entire council is present again. Then you also discuss that crucial part with each other again. That is absolutely out of the question now. It is all so incredibly shameless, the two councilors who have said they are coming tonight are notably coalition members. What do you want to achieve? I believe that the Registry should have played a stronger role in this and should have countered this. But in the end it all stands or falls with those two councilors: if they are really present tonight and go along in this game, they will do the city council institution a lot of damage. ”
Zoeterwoude is not the only municipality where this is happening, there is also a council meeting tonight in Lisse. The group leaders have put their heads in advance and one council member will vote on behalf of the full council. There is no noise between the bulb fields. “We know that article twenty is used in a limited number of municipalities,” says Sonja van der Graaf on behalf of the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG). “But it is not clear to us exactly what it does. We do not encourage it, because this drug is mainly intended for situations where you really cannot do otherwise. ”
Ironically, the House of Representatives will meet on Friday afternoon about an emergency law that stipulates that municipal decisions will now also be taken digitally tomorrow. “If things go well, this law will come into effect next week,” says Boogaard. “If they had waited for that in Zoeterwoude, this consternation would not have been necessary at all.”