Croydon Council chief executive: 'This will be a different meeting if the press are here'
THE press were banned from a West Croydon public meeting after council chief executive Jon Rouse said he felt 'uncomfortable' answering questions in their presence.
Mr Rouse - who earned a basic salary of £179,529 in the last financial year - had been invited to talk about a host of topics affecting the area, including a lack of parking and the progress on getting a police shop-front established on the London Road.
But before answering the pre-prepared questions he admitted to being confused that the Croydon Advertiser was in the audience, unaware that it was an open meeting, and said it wasn't appropriate for an officer to be placed in such a position.
One audience member walked out in disgust when the press were asked to leave, labelling the situation as 'out of order'.
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The open meeting was organised by the West Croydon Community Forum (WCCF) at the CVA Resource Centre in London Road, West Croydon, last Thursday night (December 6).
Mr Rouse told the audience: "It's going to be a very different meeting if the press are here because I'm going to give very factual and very closed answers.
"It's isn't my job or my officers' to place ourselves in a position which is rightly the position of democratically elected politicians.
"We will have a meeting but it's going to be quite stilted."
Mr Rouse argued there wouldn't be an open dialogue, and said scrutiny meetings consider issues of accountability.
"If you want to have an open forum and an open debate with the press present than that is actually the role of the politically elected members," he added.
"That's why (in) the Croydon Advertiser every week you see the elected members regularly quoted."
A reporter from the Advertiser explained that the paper was there to write a story for the community, many of whom may not have been able to attend due to the meeting being scheduled at 4pm.
A public vote was taken among the gathering and it was narrowly decided the press should leave.
But Nitin Mehta, who runs a business on the London Road, felt so strongly about the treatment of the press that he left too.
Speaking afterwards, the 58-year-old said: "I really felt bad that somebody who is there is then asked to leave without any genuine reason. I thought that it was out of order.
"I had to show my support and walk out.
"I cannot understand the logic behind it. I could understand if it was a really difficult or controversial subject we were going to talk about.
"But it was just a small meeting talking about how we're going forward and making things better.
"It was nothing top secret that the press shouldn't be there."
Mr Mehta added he was disappointed with the show of hands asking for the press to leave.
He added: "It all happened so quickly, I don't think a lot of people were able to give a thought about it."