Thrice denied

As anticipated, the IPPG block vote, plus a trio of fellow travellers (Cllrs Alison Lee, David Lloyd and Stan Hudson), was enough to ensure that the chief executive got his £320,000 golden goodbye.

At least Cllr Lee, the latest recruit from the Labour group, could fall back on collective Cabinet responsibility as an excuse.

The Leader, Cllr Jamie Adams, is fond of saying that he concentrates on “outcomes not process” – three words that put him and me at opposite ends of the political spectrum – and he certainly got his desired outcome.

But what about the process?

Well, following revelations in the Pembrokeshire Herald concerning a meeting in the the chief executive’s office between the man himself and Cllrs Peter Morgan and Mark Edwards, Mr Parry-Jones was sent on gardening leave.

That was an arrangement cobbled together between the leader and the Chief Executive, though it has never been explained how the leader came to have the authority to reach such an agreement.

Anyway, this bold move was enough to calm Cllr Adams’ rebellious disciples, at least in the short term.

This was followed by the extraordinary council meeting on 12 September 2014 when members considered motions of no confidence in both the leader and chief executive as well as a motion to set up a disciplinary committee to investigate the chief executive’s conduct.

At its second meeting, the disciplinary committee heard evidence from Cllrs Morgan and Edwards, who, according to a report in the Pembrokeshire Herald, had been the subject of an “expletive-laden rant” by the chief executive in his office.

This was, it was reported, as a result of the way the two members had voted on an amendment put forward by the author of that other website during a debate on the chief executive’s pension arrangements at the meeting on 1 May 2014.

Jacob’s amendment called for a letter to be written to the two recipients of what the Wales Audit office had described as “unlawful” pension payments, asking them to repay the sums involved.

Coming out of a clear blue sky, this amendment caught the IPPG off balance because there had been no opportunity for its members to be apprised of the party line.

In the event, eight of them, including Cllrs Morgan and Edwards voted in favour and it was carried. Shortly after that, the two members were informed by the then deputy leader Cllr Rob Lewis that the chief executive wished to see them.

It was several months later that reports of what happened at that meeting were reported in the Pembrokeshire Herald and the chain of events was triggered that led to Mr Parry-Jones being sent on gardening leave; a vote of no confidence in him being carried by 46 votes to three with three abstentions; and the setting up of a disciplinary investigation committee to consider various allegations regarding the chief executive’s conduct.

The events surrounding the testimony of Cllrs Edwards and Morgan can be found at Stranger than truth, and I was keen to discover the facts behind the conflicting stories of Cllr David Simpson who claimed that the two members had visited him at home to seek advice on what to do about pressure being exerted by deputy leader Rob Lewis designed to persuade Cllr Morgan not testify to the committee and Cllr Morgan’s denial at the committee that any such pressure had ever been brought to bear.

So I tabled the following question to the Leader at last week’s council meeting:

“According to a report on the Pembrokeshire Herald’s website, Cllr Peter Morgan told the newspaper: “I spoke with David [Simpson] last night and said that Rob Lewis has spoken to me about appearing before the investigatory committee. My position is that pressure won’t work on me. I will do what is right. When I spoke to Jamie Adams last night, I told him the same thing.”

Does the Leader agree that, if Cllr Morgan felt he was being put under “pressure” by Cllr Lewis regarding his appearance before the Disciplinary and Investigatory Committee, this would amount to unacceptable interference with a witness?”

In reply Cllr Adams said that whether any witnesses had been put under pressure was a matter for the disciplinary committee to determine and, as he was not a member of that committee, “I cannot comment any further”.

However, after I pointed out that the committee was set up for the specific purpose of investigating the chief executive’s conduct, and it had no remit to investigate anything else, the Leader was a bit more forthcoming:

“I am happy to give a comment on that matter specifically,” he told council, “because I have taken the opportunity to speak to both members named [Cllrs Morgan and Lewis] and I was given an assurance, at least as far as yesterday, from the members concerned that that was not the case. And that was a categorical assurance and I know the chairman of the disciplinary committee [Cllr Keith Lewis] was also given that assurance as was Cllr [David] Lloyd who is not with us now but who took it upon himself to seek that clarity as well”.

What the leader didn’t say was whether he, or the other two, had “taken the opportunity” to seek the same “categorical assurances” from either David Simpson or Mark Edwards, as might have been expected had they been interested in the full story.

This is especially so with Cllr Keith Lewis who I know was aware that there was a problem because after conferring with Cllrs Edwards and Simpson during a break in the committee’s proceedings, when he reconvened the meeting he said, from the chair, that Cllr Morgan wished to come back and provide further evidence.

Unfortunately, Cllr Morgan couldn’t be found, so we never did get to hear what “new” information he wished to impart, though I have no reason to believe that the version of events found at Stranger than truth is materially inaccurate.

However, we did learn something from Cllr Morgan that cleared up the mystery of his and Cllr Lewis’ strange antics during the extraordinary “brown envelope” meeting on 14 February 2014 (the St Valentine’s Day massacre) where Kerr QC produced press cuttings which he said showed a number of members had “prejudged” the issue of the chief executive’s pension arrangements and should therefore declare an interest and withdraw from the meeting.

Then, you will recall, Cllr Lewis made a big song and dance about declaring an interest and leaving the meeting closely followed by Peter Morgan (Comical Keith).

Strangely, Cllr Lewis wasn’t one of those named by Kerr QC which only encouraged the conspiracy theorists to conclude that his Oscar-worthy performance was part of a meticulously choreographed stunt.

As will be seen the below, not for the first time, the conspiracy theorists were on to something.

Labour leader, Cllr Paul Miller, who was on Mr Kerr’s list of councillors who he felt had erred on the side of predetermination, stood up and said he had taken advice from his Labour party HQ lawyers and that he and his group members would be staying.

Soon after, Cllrs Morgan and Lewis rematerialised and, after a decent interval, Cllr Lewis gave a repeat performance of his declaration of interest act.

Questioned about this reappearance, Cllr Morgan told the disciplinary committee that he and Keith Lewis had been told to return to the chamber by a council officer.

When pressed, he named the officer as assistant chief executive Ben Pykett. Indeed he told the committee that Mr Pykett had come down and told the two of them that nobody else was declaring an interest and “to get back in there”.

As I explained previously there were 13 opposition members on Mr Kerr’s list and only four from the IPPG, so, if all those named withdrew from the chamber, there would be a net gain of nine for the ruling clique.

However, with only Cllrs Morgan and Lewis kicking their heels on the landing, this gain was transformed in to a two vote deficit – not what this carefully planned ruse was supposed to achieve.

Of course, if Cllr Morgan was telling the truth about Mr Pykett’s intervention, it raises some serious questions about the relationship between council officers and the IPPG.

Presumably, the assistant chief executive had been watching events on the webcam somewhere else in the building and, having witnessed Cllr Miller’s determination to stay put, he had “come down” – from where was not specified – to put a hastily devised Plan B into effect.

My first thoughts are that my constituents don’t pay Mr Pykett £100,000-a-year to act as the IPPG’s chief whip, so, when the dust has settled, I will be taking steps to ensure the council carries out a thorough investigation of this matter.

Assuming Cllr Morgan tells the same story, I am expecting to find that, while the Leader got his desired outcome on that occasion, the process fell well short of the standards normally expected in a constitutional democracy under the rule of law.