August 13


Hare and Hound

Faced with the prospect that Pembrokeshire could have a directly elected Mayor, who will not be one of them, the Independent Political Group is showing signs of panic.
Expect, over the coming weeks, an increasing stream of invective and personal attacks on those they see as the enemy.
I will be disappointed if I'm not one of those lined up for vilification.
And who can blame them, because the Independents, with their huge majority, have absolute power to do whatever it the Chief Officer's Management Board (COMB) tells them, while, at the same time, filling their boots with inflated Special Responsibility Allowances.
It is a truly marvellous niche they have carved out for themselves.
One of the most bizarre manifestations of this Alice-in-Wonderland situation is what happens when COMB proposes something that is not to the liking of a particular Independent, or, to be more accurate, the voters whose support ensures his first-class ride on the gravy train.
Then the Independent breaks ranks and makes an impassioned speech rubbishing the proposals.
His constituents, sitting in the public gallery, are mightily impressed by their man's robust defence of their interests and, despite the fact that the proposition is carried by the huge Independent block vote, go away satisfied that their man has done everything possible.
The rebel Independent can then resume his place as a member of the ruling group, voting in strict obedience to the party whip on issues that do not excite his constituents.
I have observed this ability to switch from government to opposition and back again on a numerous occasions on such topics as the closure of old people's homes and rural schools; and the siting of McDonald's restaurants and waste disposal facilities.
Perhaps the most shameless and unprincipled use of these tactics was that of Councillor Peter Stock, who somebody once described to me as: " being all over you like a duvet ".
The case concerned a campaign, by Councillor Stock's constituents in Cromie Avenue, for traffic calming measures in the street, which, they claimed, was being used as " a rat run '' between St David's Road and Portfield
The Highways Department did a survey and found that, in terms of the speed and density of vehicles, the street did not qualify for traffic calming under the existing policy.
The residents were unhappy with this outcome and decided to demonstrate their disapproval by blockading the street one Saturday morning.
Old Grumpy turned up with the camera, to record their protest for posterity, and was surprised to see the smiling face of Councillor Stock among the crowd lined up across the junction with Portfield.
Though I was not surprised to find a he had made himself scarce when the police arrived half-an-hour later to clear the illegal blockade.
What was particularly interesting about Councillor Stock's involvement was that, at the time, he was the chairman of the council: installed in that exalted position by the very same Independent Group who were the architects of a policy about which he felt so strongly that he was prepared to encourage law-breaking.
An honourable man, who found himself so at odds with his own party's policy, might have resigned.
Or, failing that, he might have campaigned from within to have the policy changed.
In fact, he did neither.
But why bother with principled politics when you can run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.

Unanswered questions

Last May I received a telephone call from Mr Keri Jones, of the radio station Haven FM, regarding a letter he had received from County Councillor Brian Hall.
Mr Jones had recently offered me a job (contingent on his company been awarded the Pembrokeshire franchise) presenting a current affairs programme.
He was therefore somewhat disturbed to be told by Councillor Hall that: "I have to tell you that my solicitors are pursuing a claim for defamation against [Old Grumpy] and his former employers following a reference to me in an article by [Old Grumpy].
Naturally, Mr Jones was concerned that he might have taken on a journalist who went around it defaming people.
Fortunately, I was able to assure him that Councillor Hall's claims were untrue.
For, while I was aware of letters sent by his solicitors to my former employers, Newscom Ltd, he had not contacted me, either directly or indirectly, about this action for defamation.
In any case, to say that he was '' pursuing" a claim against anyone was well wide of the mark. The article complained of was written in March 2000 and the last Newscom heard from his solicitors was in August of that year.
Hardly the hottest of hot pursuits!
As I have said before, if Councillor Hall wants to chance his arm in the libel courts I am more than ready to accommodate him.
What did concern me was that the letter to Mr Jones was on County Council notepaper and had been typed by a member of the authority's staff, Mrs D H Dawes.
I wrote to the council's monitoring officer, Mr Huw James, asking if the typing of personal letters, containing untruths designed to undermine my employment prospects, fell within the rules laid down for a taxpayer-funded secretarial services provided to members.
Much to my surprise he told me that it did.
Naturally, Newscom's solicitors did keep me informed of what was going on, and I know from the correspondence that the pursuit, such as it was, ran out of puff following a letter sent to Cllr Hall's solicitors on 18th July 2000.
I had asserted in my article of March 2000 that Councillor Hall had claimed, and been paid, travelling expenses in respect of seven meetings which were not " approved duties " as required by law.
During the inter-solicitor correspondence, Councillor Hall's side produced a letter from Chief Executive Bryn Parry-Jones saying that Councillor Hall was entitled expenses because the meetings attended fell under the provisions of a council resolution which, among other things, defined " approved duties " as: " attendance of the leader or other the group leaders (or their nominated representatives) at such meetings approved by the chief executive for the proper discharge of the business of the authority."
Mr Parry-Jones said that Councillor Hall had been nominated by the Leader and that he, as chief executive, had given the necessary approval.
Newscom's solicitor's letter of 19th July 2000 asked for written evidence that the Leader (then Eric Harries) had nominated Councillor Hall to be his representative.
The last letter from Councillor Hall's solicitors, dated August 2nd 2000 contains a refusal to provide this information, followed by a final paragraph which reads: "presumably if you are not instructed to proffer the necessary retraction and apology within the next seven days then clearly an our client will have no alternative but to seek his recourse through the courts ".
Clearly some alternative has been found, because more a year has elapsed and nothing has happened.
I left Newscom in September 2000 and thinking that Councillor Hall might eventually get round to setting his dogs on me, I decided to make some enquiries of my own.
In December last year I wrote to Eric Harris asking if he could confirm that he had nominated Councillor Hall to attend these meetings on his behalf and whether he had written records of these nominations.
Despite two reminders, he has not favoured me with the courtesy of a reply.
Should Councillor Hall decide to pursue a claim against me at this late stage, Mr Harris can be assured that he will be answering my questions from the witness box, particularly why it was considered necessary for Cllr Hall to represent him at a meeting with Mr Roger Barrett-Evans to discuss Pembroke Dock Museum - a parochial matter which a busy man like the Leader would not usually be interested in.

And why, given that he needed representation at all, he chose Cllr Hall rather than Cllr Viv Hay in whose ward the proposed museum was situated.

I fear that these questions will never now be answered which means that I will have to fall back on my imagination.
(For a fuller account of this saga see "legal eagles" January 2 2001)

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