To name, or not to name – that was the question before Wednesday’s meeting of the council’s corporate governance committee of which Grumpy is a member.
This issue has a bit of a history going back to March 2013 when a couple of Old Grumpy’s relatives on the the older persons scrutiny committee suggested that the names of members asking questions should be included in the minutes rather than the traditional practice of “a member asked…”.
The matter was referred to the democratic services committee in September 2013 (nothing moves very fast in PCC) when the minutes record:
“In considering the matter, Members agreed that there was no value to be added by including names of Members asking questions in the Minutes and it was pointed out that, according to Roberts Rules of Order at Meetings, to do so was considered improper.
Moved by Councillor O W James; Seconded by Councillor B J Hall
That the current practice of not including the names of Members asking questions in the Minutes of meetings be upheld.”
In the fullness of time (June 2014) this was reported back to the scrutiny committee which accepted the conclusions without further question.
And there the matter might have rested had it not been for remarks made by the lay chairman of the audit committee, Swansea solicitor Peter Jones, at the committees meeting on 5 February 2015.
Mr Jones said he had served on many committees in his time and it was the first occasion that he could recall the names of members not being included in the minutes.
As he pointed out, not unreasonably, members of the public reading the minutes would have no idea what their elected representatives were getting up to.
The minutes record:
The Chairman stated that it would be of assistance that Members who submitted representations were named in the Minutes and not referred to as a Member, as at present. The Acting Head of Legal and Committee Services stated that she would consider the point and liaise with the Monitoring Officer.
Encouraged by the words of the experienced (and expensive) Swansea solicitor, Cllr Tessa Hodgson put down a notice of motion to the March meeting of council and it was this that appeared on the agenda for Wednesday’s corporate governance committee.
This landed the council’s legal experts in a bit of a quandary (Swansea solicitor v Robert’s Rules) so they hit upon the compromise of giving the naming of members a three month trial run with a view to reporting back “on member feedback and any administrative implications.”
Meanwhile, having long experience of the council’s use of the Human Rights Act, sub-judice, legal privilege, predetermination and Data Protection legislation as methods of keeping members in line, Old Grumpy decided to take a look at these Robert’s Rules that rendered the inclusion of members’ names “improper”.
Thanks to the wonders of Google, I discovered that they were written in 1876 by Brigadier General Henry Martyn Robert of the United States army.
They are mainly concerned with the conduct of meetings and offer guidance such as:
“In the case of fire, riot or very serious disorder, or other great emergency, the chairmen has the right and the duty to declare the assembly adjourned.”
There is not much on the subject of recording meetings, but I did come across:
When the minutes are to be published, in addition to the strict record of what is to be done, as hereafter described, they should contain a list of the speakers on each side of every question, with an abstract of all speeches, if not the speeches in full.”
Armed with this knowledge, I proposed in corporate governance that, as the much vaunted Robert’s rules appeared to suggest that it was the exclusion of members’ names that was “improper”, the new arrangements should be made permanent.
The Monitoring Officer was quick to point out that the Robert’s Rules have no statutory force whatsoever, and only good manners prevented me from asking why, in that case, they had been cited as authority in the democratic services committee report.
The IPPG then fell back on the “administrative implications” though when pressed by the young whippersnapper they had some difficulty explaining why typing someone’s name instead of “a member” would make any difference at all.
But these people never know when they are beaten and it was even suggested that some members might not wish to see their names published in the minutes.
It is difficult to argue against this sort of sophistry, so I resisted pointing out that if they wish to avoid the public gaze they shouldn’t stand for public office, though, I did suggest that the reason the IPPG members were lukewarm about this reform was that it would smoke out the Trappists in their ranks who go to meeting, after meeting, after meeting without making any contribution.
All to no avail, of course, because the hands of the seven IPPG loyalists on the 13-member committee shot up in unison, as they always do.
Never mind, we will have another chance when the matter returns to full council in May.
My remarks about Trappists brought a swift riposte from committee chairman Ken Rowlands who reminded members of the good works these silent councillors did “for their communities”.
This is, perhaps, one of the greatest sources of misunderstanding about the role of elected members.
While we are all elected for a particular ward, and while from time to time constituents come to us with their problems which we try as best we can to resolve, we are also county councillors with county-wide responsibilities.
Hence, the education of children in Tenby and Fishguard should be as much of a concern for me as the education of children in my own ward of Hakin.
It doesn’t take too much intelligence to work out that if we spend all our time scurrying round county hall promoting the interests of our own constituents – and our prospects of re-election – we are like 60 dogs fighting over the same bone.
And, as the council has a finite budget, the laws of arithmetic mean that any advantage one member obtains for their constituents is to the disadvantage of someone elsewhere.
Consequently, a councillor’s role is to devise policies that make the available resources stretch as far as possible.
This is based on the old Christian principle of the politics of the common good which deems it immoral for a member to use their influence to have money spent in their ward which would do more good somewhere else.
This brings to mind Cllr Rev Huw George’s election address and video in which he boasted of the amount of tarmac that had been spread around Maenchlochog in the year before the 2012 election.
This he put down to “positive politics” and “putting our community before the council” – a strange boast for a Cabinet member with responsibility for education across the county.
Of course, if Cllr George was using his influence as a Cabinet member to get preferential treatment for his constituents, he would fall into the same trap as Dame Shirley Porter and, more recently, Lutfur Rahman.
However, when I queried this at a Cabinet meeting where I was pleading for extra cash for parking on the council’s housing estates, I was told that the £300,000 spent in Cllr George’s ward was for “routine maintenance”.
If that his true, then his claim that it was all down to “positive politics” was an attempt to mislead the electorate.
Another who was economical with the truth on his election address was Cllr Ken Rowlands – the Voice of Johnston and wannabe vice-chairman of the council.
You will recall that Cllr Ken told the voters of Johnston that, thanks to his unstinting efforts, £7 million had been “committed” to a new school in the village.
Not true, I’m afraid!
It seems that, soon after the 2008 election, when he jumped from Labour into the arms of the IPG and a comfortable Cabinet billet (SRA circa 15 grand), Ken was reminded by the the, then, Leader John Davies that he should extend his horizons beyond simply making sure that he got re-elected in Johnston.
In addition to the vast treasure trove of information about Cllr Rob Lewis’s wholesale and unlawful use of council computers at both the 2008 and 2012 elections; leaked to the author of that other website back in 2012, is a letter from Ken to Cllr Davies – an extract from which is published below.
“I am being mindful of your advice that I must look at things from the perspective of the whole County and not limit my energies to the local needs of Johnston.
The point is that I feel that the ideas that follow will include developments within my constituency but will be relevant to addressing future needs of the county as a whole which I suggest would encourage affordable housing, address our waste problems, and provide local jobs into the bargain.
I know I have recited this before, but please bare with me, because I think the time is now.”
“Please bare with me” – the mind boggles.