Shine a light!

Things took an interesting turn at the recent meeting of full council when Cllrs David Bryan (Tory) and Jamie Adams (IPG) raised loud objections to the process by which Stackpole Community Councillor David Edwards had been recommended by the council’s appointments panel to fill a community councillor vacancy on the authority’s standards committee.

Cllr Bryan, who could sound outraged whilst ordering a home-delivery pizza, was concerned that Cllr Josh Beynon who sits on the appointments panel was a member of the Labour party, as was Mr Edwards.

He demanded to know whether Cllr Beynon had sought advice from the Monitoring Officer about potential conflicts of interest.

Cllr Bryan said “I believe Mr Edwards helped Cllr Beynon during the 2017 election campaign.”

However, when Cllr Beynon disputed this and said that he had delivered all of his own leaflets, Cllr Bryan pointed out that he had said “I believe”.

“I’m not saying it’s a categorical fact” he insisted.

In which case we must conclude it was a sly smear of the kind we have got used to from that side of the chamber.

Cllr Bryan also wanted to know if any member of the panel had declared an interest at the meeting to which the Monitoring Officer answered in the negative.

Next up was Cllr Jamie Adams.

“Well this has been quite a revelation.” he said.

“So we have two members of the Labour Party [Cllrs Josh Beynon and Vic Dennis] meeting behind closed doors.

“We have Cllr Jacob Williams who I understand is a personal friend of Mr Edwards also on the panel.”

“So we have, by default, ‘jobs for the boys'”.

And he accused the Leader Cllr David Simpson of using these “three stooges” to promote Mr Edwards’ candidacy.

Cllr Jacob Williams accepted that, if the world were to be divided into enemies and friends, Mr Edwards would be on the friendly side of the ledger, but the test in the Code of Conduct was “a close personal association” and his relationship with Mr Edwards didn’t cross that threshold.

He also pointed out that the former-leader’s “three stooges” remark was ill-judged because the three councillor-members of the panel were appointed by full council, not the Leader.

It is difficult to know where to start with all this.

But first I will dispose of the question of whether mutual membership of a political party is grounds for declaring an interest.

Having a long memory, I decided to see what happened at the May 2005 and April 2007 meetings of the planning committee which considered planning applications for agricultural dwellings by Cllrs John Davies and Jamie Adams, respectively.

At the material times Cllr Davies was leader of both the Independent Political Group (IPG) and PCC, and Cllr Adams was a member of the IPG and Cllr Davies’ cabinet.

I notice that 15 members of the IPG attended each of these planning committee meetings, though none of them seemed to have considered it necessary to declare an interest.

Present at the meeting in May 2005, when Cllr Davies’ application was decided, was Cllr Brian Hall who was at the time trousering a Cabinet SRA courtesy of the applicant.

Even more remarkable is the presence at both meetings of Code of Conduct guardian Cllr David Bryan, then an IPG loyalist.

Both applications were granted in somewhat dubious circumstances (See No udder conclusion and Cottage industry), a case, perhaps, of “plots for the boys”.

As for secret meetings, Cllr Adams was a member PCC’s senior staff committee (Chairman Cllr John Davies) when, in September 2011, it met in “private” in Mr Parry-Jones’ office, and agreed to adopt new pension arrangements which benefited senior officers like Mr Parry-Jones – arrangements that were later declared unlawful by the Wales Audit Office.

This is not the first time the Tories have had a go at Cllr Williams.

Indeed conspiracy theorists believe it was all part of a campaign to help their colleague David Howlett see off Jacob’s challenge for the planning committee chairmanship at the following day’s annual general meeting.

Not a success, as it turned out.

You may recall that, back in December, Cllr Mark Carter intervened in a debate about legal advice obtained by the council to suggest to the Monitoring Officer that some of Jacob’s comments amounted to the bullying of officers.

Then there was the ill-fated expedition to Mount Ombudsman by a trio of Tories (Cllrs David Bryan, Mark Carter and Rob Summons) with a complaint that Jacob’s use of the word “cosy” to describe the relationship between Chief Executive Ian Westley and the police was borderline libellous and “workplace bullying.”

As part of his submission to the Ombudsman, Cllr Carter complained that the words used were “a clear demonstration of Cllr Williams behaving in a way that negatively affects Pembrokeshire County Council’s reputation.”

A few weeks ago, Old Grumpy noticed that Cllr Carter had applied for a dispensation from the standards committee to speak and vote on matters concerning PCC’s decision to discontinue the street lighting outside Trefgarne Owen community hall – the meeting place of Brawdy Community Council of which he is also a member.

The need for the dispensation arose from the fact that the two street lights that PCC were proposing to take out of service also lit the private road into a caravan site owned by Cllr Carter.

At its meeting on 20 March the standards committee granted Cllr Carter dispensation to speak and vote on such matters.

The minutes of Brawdy Community Council are not something in which I would normally take an interest.

However, just in case anything had gone on that might have sullied the county council’s precious reputation, I took a quick look and was interested to see in the minutes for their meeting on January 28:

“Cllr Carter advised that the lighting and the potholes outside the Schoolroom in Trefgarn-Owen were in need of attention. In the first instance he agreed he would contact PCC and the Chapel to discuss these matters.”

While no declaration of interest was made at that meeting by Cllr Carter, the penny seems to have dropped by the time the community council next met on February 25, because the minutes record:

“Cllr Carter provided an update regarding the street lighting. He advised that the county councils’ policy on street lighting was that if the light is on private land, and when the equipments’ life is beyond repair, it will not be replaced and will be removed. The light that affected us was the area immediately outside the Schoolroom in Trefgarn Owen. At this point Cllr Carter expressed an interest, signed the declaration of interest form and left the room.”

However, that doesn’t get him off the hook because the Code of Conduct doesn’t allow members to have their say before withdrawing:

“14.(1) …where you have a prejudicial interest in any business of your authority you must, unless you have obtained a dispensation from your authority’s standards committee —

withdraw from the room, chamber or place where a meeting considering the business is being held […] whenever it becomes apparent that that business is being considered at that meeting.”

By the time of the next meeting on 1 April, Cllr Carter had his dispensation safely in the bag and the minutes record:

“Since the last meeting the clerk had received a reply from Darren Thomas at County Hall stating that as this area of land is not council owned it is not their responsibility. After a further discussion Cllr Carter proposed that the street light be reinstated on the pole by the chapel, with the cost being covered by the community council. This light would be switched off at midnight.

It was also proposed by Cllr Carter that he contact the chapel representatives and negotiate the siting of a light outside the Schoolroom. Cllr Carter was given approval by the community council to deal with these matters including agreeing the costs.”

It would have been more in keeping with Tory philosophy on public spending if “agreeing the costs” had involved seeking a contribution from the main beneficiary: Cllr Carter.

This all reminds me of the weekly radio programme in which the late, great Frank Muir and his late, great partner Dennis Norden were invited to produce a story based on one of the proverbs.

Frank told the tale of the African chief who had been presented with a solid gold throne by his grateful subjects.

To avoid the possibility of theft by a rival chieftain, he decided to conceal it in the roof-space of his hut.

Unfortunately, the roof structure proved unequal to the weight of the throne and it crashed down upon the sleeping chief who didn’t survive the impact.

And the moral of the story?

People in grass houses shouldn’t stow thrones.