Emergency powers at Bath and North East Somerset Council are set to be eased by the end of the month.
Many key decisions since the lockdown began have been taken by chief executive Will Godfrey, initially leaving cabinet members feeling “out of the loop”.
Council leader Dine Romero said she was confident in the decisions that had been made at pace but is keen to return to “democratic ways of working”.
Before this week only one council meeting, a planning meeting, had been held in the 70 days since the lockdown but members are now meeting virtually.
Deputy leader Richard Samuel told the corporate policy development and scrutiny panel on May 27: “We gave the chief executive and directors powers to do things on our behalf.
“I don’t think the constitution ever envisaged an emergency that would last for three months.
“For councillors, this has been a bit of a problem. There’s no criticism of the chief executive or directors but it was necessary at an early stage to institute a daily briefing with the leader, myself and Tim Ball.
“Decisions were being made very fast. We found out about them afterwards.
“In a democratic organisation it’s not right for elected councillors to be out of the loop for so long.”
Monitoring officer Maria Lucas told the meeting: “We have emergency provisions under the constitution. We only use them in emergencies.
“We couldn’t get cabinet to meet – it wasn’t safe because of the lockdown. Now we’re able to meet these emergency provisions aren’t needed.
“It doesn’t give the chief exec whole powers. Cabinet members can make decisions. Those rules are in the constitution. It just depends how you use them.
“Single-member decisions have continued to be made.”
She said the use of emergency powers was due to be eased by the end of May.
18 decisions have been made by cabinet members since the lockdown began on 23rd March.
Some were related to the crisis, like the declaration of a major incident, but others were more everyday council business, like the naming of a street in Chew Stoke and approving school expansions.
A report to the scrutiny panel gives an insight into the council’s “streamlined decision-making”.
It says all decisions normally made by the cabinet or leader Dine Romero are being signed off by Mr Godfrey.
The cabinet meets remotely every Monday, opposition group leaders are updated each Tuesday, and there are daily briefings for top officers and Councillor Romero.
She has also met with key partners, including the NHS, voluntary sector and universities, and speaks regularly with other council leaders.
In an interview with the Local Democracy Reporting Service last week, Cllr Romero said: “Things had to move at pace. We had to take operational decisions.
“They aren’t the sort of decisions that would have benefited from intense scrutiny.
“Every time a decision was taken, a note was made of the circumstances. A report will go to cabinet.
“We’re being as open and transparent as we can but some decisions had to be taken at the time because they were necessary.
“I’ve been communicating with other group leaders. There shouldn’t have been any decisions that were a massive surprise.
“I don’t think there were many decisions that were strategic as opposed to operational.
“I’ve been the first one to be returning to democratic ways of working to ensure we’re as open as possible and scrutiny takes place.
“We need strong and robust processes that question what we’re doing to ensure we’re making the right decisions.”
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter