Case: After consulting with the youth from their community, the youth council of the municipality wanted to address the mayor with questions regarding issues that concern the youth (such as pedestrian crossing lighting, repairs to the sidewalk next to the school, or the renovation of the school playground) during the youth council session. However, the mayor did not show up to the session. Therefore, the presidium of the youth council decided to attend the municipality council session and ask the mayor about the above-mentioned issues there. Unfortunately, the youth councilors were not allowed to participate in the council session.
What to do in this situation?
Regarding the issue of youth councilors’ participation in the municipality council session, the sessions of this body are public and accessible to all citizens. According to article 61 of the Constitution, everyone has the right to obtain information about the activities of public authorities, including of course local government bodies. Citizens’ rights include not only access to the meetings of collective bodies elected by universal suffrage (such as the municipality or county council), the ability to film or record sound from such meetings, but also access to all documents, reports, and protocols from their sessions. No one needs to justify why they want to obtain such information. The above regulations are also contained in article 11b of the Act on Local Government.
However, the issue of speaking during the municipality council sessions is different. According to article 19(2) of the Act on Local Government and analogous provisions of the other two municipal acts, the chairman’s task is to organize the council’s work and conduct its proceedings. Taking into account the wording of this provision, it is clear that the chairman has the exclusive right to give or refuse anyone the floor, regardless of whether they hold the position of councilor in a given unit or not. Of course, the chairman must comply with the restrictions imposed by the statute in this regard. Therefore, the statute should specify the rules that residents must meet in order to speak at the session. Importantly, article 19(2) of the Act on Local Government cannot be the basis for introducing a general ban on non-councilors speaking in the statute.
In summary, denying residents access to the council session venue is unacceptable, while youth councilors could be excluded from speaking if the statute stated that they had not previously submitted the topic of their presentation.
Regarding the official inquiry of the Youth Council addressed to the local government authority, the current path to do so is simple – based on Article 5b(7) of the Act on Communes: “In matters concerning the commune, the youth council of the commune may direct inquiries or requests in the form of a resolution. The resolution should contain a brief presentation of the factual state that is the subject of the inquiry and the questions arising from it. The mayor or a person designated by him or her is obliged to respond in writing no later than 30 days from the date of receipt of the resolution.”
Therefore, the Youth Council may “inquire” about these issues in the form of a resolution, and the mayor or a person authorized by him or her is obligated to respond to it. Unfortunately, there is a problem with enforcing this obligation on the executive body. As indicated by the jurisprudence in this regard: “It is not possible to file a complaint with the administrative court regarding inactivity in the scope of the lack of a response from the authority or an incomplete response to the inquiry of, for example, a councilor, because the response to the councilor’s inquiry only has informational value, and its content does not grant rights to the addressee and does not impose any obligations on him or her. The response to the councilor’s inquiry is not an act in the scope of public administration subject to appeal to the administrative court.” However, the above considerations of the court are related to an inquiry by a single councilor, not the entire body. This implies another problem with this regulation – the lack of the possibility to individually submit an inquiry or interpellation by individual councilors.
Therefore, with regards to requests for information by the bodies of local self-government, it is suggested that the legislator take action and introduce three key changes that would give youth councils a real tool in the form of inquiries or requests:
- Granting the right to individually address inquiries/interpellations to youth councilors.
- Introducing a certain procedure that would apply in the event of failure to provide a response by the authority within the prescribed deadline, taking into account the position of administrative courts in the current legal state.
- Obligating the disclosure of the content of councilors’ inquiries and the responses they receive to the public through immediate publication in the Public Information Bulletin and on the website of the given local self-government unit, as well as through other customary means.