July 25 2013
Following last week's coup by the Independent Plus Political Group - aided and abetted by the Conservatives and Plaid - in engineering the appointment of Cllr Owen James to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park authority rather than the unaffiliated members' chosen candidate Cllr Phil Baker (Shady business), there has been much serious discussion as to how we unaffiliated members can guard against further raids.
Now that the ruling clique has a cuckoo in the unaffiliated nest, there is no end to damage it can do.
For instance, come next May's AGM, the IPPG could use its majority to replace any one of us with Cllr James.
So, not surprisingly, there has been talk of the formation of a group to protect us from the depredations of Cllr Jamie Adams and his gang.
I have now had time to do some calculations and group of eight would suffice to both remove Cllr James from national park seat and deprive the Tories of their scrutiny committee chair (SRA circa £9,000 p.a.).
It has also been pointed out by the author of that other website, who, I should stress, is not involved in these group-forming discussions, that a group of four and a group of three would achieve the same outcome.
Though one should never seek to exact revenge, I can't promise that the temptation won't get the better of me.
I am told that, following last Thursday's meeting, a senior IPPG member and a senior Tory were overheard discussing this affair in the members' tea room.
It appears that the IPPG man was telling the Tory that the unaffiliated members' "pact" by which we arrange not to compete with each other for committee places had "backfired".
If, as suggested above, two groups were to be formed, it would be the Tories who would feel the blast.
Interestingly, Grumpette has unearthed an email from Cllr Owen James regarding a previous attempt by the IPPG to decide which committees we unaffiliated (non-aligned) members should sit on.
As Cllr James says: "I agree with you, - how was it that Rob Lewis proposed a non aligned on to planning - I thought the whole idea was to have a system for such events to reduce the interference opportunity for the ipg."
Well, we did have such a system before Cllr James decided to rat on the agreement.
I notice that the Western Telegraphs article on Cllr Jamie Adams' unorthodox expense claiming practices has been picked up by the 'Rotten Boroughs' section of Private Eye.
Readers will recall that Cllr Adams tried to shrug off any criticism by claiming that it was merely a matter of "poor-book keeping".
As the writer of Rotten Boroughs concludes: "Is a county council - especially one facing a "challenging" programme of £8.6 million cuts - best run by someone with no head for figures?"
Old Grumpy, as the originator of the story (Perfect timing), gets an honourable mention, but I have an admission to make: It was not me that first discovered these backdated claims, but Grumpette.
And she is not amused that I have been getting all the credit.
The pair of us attended the offices in Thornton to inspect the accounts and, while I was looking for something else on the computer, Grumpette decided to have a gander at the members' travel claims.
The first file was that of Cllr Adams and she immediately spotted his huge wodge of claims going way back to 2008.
OK, now I've confessed, can I come out of the spare bedroom?
You often read reports in the media about the failure of states like Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia and Zimbabwe to abide by the rule of law.
But journalists don't have to jet off to faraway places to observe this phenomena; a train from Paddington to Haverfordwest, followed by the short walk to County Hall, would do just as well.
The author of that other website has an interesting post: "Hidden agenda", on the methods used by the ruling clique to kick opposition members' notices of motion into the long grass.
The constitution seems quite clear on this matter: " [Notices of motion to full council] . . . stand referred without discussion to the Executive or any Committee(s) as the council may determine, for consideration and report back to the council for determination."
The most egregious example is the NoM seeking to relax the rules regarding the call-in of cabinet decisions which was signed by five members and submitted to the council meeting in October 2011.
This was referred to the corporate governance committee which decided to defer consideration of the matter pending further information.
Despite protests from Cllr Bob Kilmister and myself, that was the last we heard of it..
Its absence from the agenda of the meeting in December 2011, prompted me to ask what had happened to it.
The reply was that the corporate governance committee hadn't made a decision on the matter.
I argued that they had made a decision to defer it and that that should have been reported back to council which could have either endorsed that decision or put the motion to the vote.
As I said at the time the IPPG had devised a way of delaying unwelcome NoM's indefinitely.
And events have proved me right.
The upshot is that the corporate governance committee has, in effect, awarded itself plenary powers, thereby usurping full council's role as the authority's sovereign body.
This suits Cllr Adams because with a slim 32-28 majority, and not a few IPPG members who cannot always be relied upon to toe the party line, full council is dangerous territory.
On the other hand, at corporate governance, which is packed with the Leader's place men, he can always be certain to get his own way.
I have to say that the author of that other website is a pretty resourceful chap.
His latest coup, following on from his brilliant "Partygate" scoop, is to get hold of a copy of the, as yet, unpublished model constitution.
He is being very tight-lipped about how he came across this document, but I suspect it is something to do with his superior cyber techniques.
It doesn't make pleasant reading for anyone who values the principles of open accountable local government.
If it is adopted in its present form it will place draconian restrictions on the rights of members to ask questions; submit notices of motion; and call-in Cabinet decisions.
Indeed, it more resembles something got up by Vladimir Putin than representatives of the world's oldest democracy (other than the Isle of Man. Ed.)
In keeping with what one Labour insider tells me is the Welsh Government's "strong leader" policy we have
1.1.1 Motion to Remove the Leader
(a) A motion to remove the Leader cannot be moved unless the notice of motion is signed by a number of councillors which is at least equivalent to 15% of the total number of councillors on the Council and which includes councillors from at least two political groups.
(b) In order for such a motion to be carried it must have the support of at least two thirds of those members voting and present in the room at the time the question was put.
(c) A motion to remove the Leader cannot be moved more than once in any rolling 12 month period.
So those of us members who don't belong to group couldn't put down a motion of no confidence in the Leader even though we make up 20% of the council.
And, for such a motion to succeed, it would need the support of at least 12 members of the ruling group, in addition to all the opposition.
And if the Leader's actions triggered a vote of confidence that failed, he would be safe from any further attempt to unseat him for 12 months, whatever he did.
In any case, I would have thought the history of the last century might have turned us off the idea of strong leaders.
It's wise leaders we need, but they're not easy to come by.
Until quite recently, the county council published third party representations regarding planning applications on its website.
This was a useful facility for people with an interest in an application because they were able to keep track in real time of what representations had been made.
That enabled both sides to write in and correct what they considered to be inaccuracies or misrepresentations.
Towards the end of last year it was decided to remove these representations from the website, though
nobody thought to inform elected members of this change.
The reason given was that there was risk that someone might submit defamatory material which could lead to the council being sued.
Cllr Alison Lee put down a question to the May meeting which sought to discover whether this threat of legal action was real or imagined.
She asked: "Prior to the Director's decision to remove planning representations submitted by non-statutory consultees from the Council's website, did the Council receive any formal or informal communications from applicants or agents alleging that the council was publishing defamatory or libelous content by making available these representations online?"
The minutes of May council, which came up for approval at last week's meeting, record: "Cllr [Rob] Lewis [Cabinet member with responsibility for planning] confirmed that there had been instances where the publishing of third party representations on the website had caused complaint on the website and examples were given."
My recollection was that there was a single example given and I asked for the plural to be removed from "instances" and "examples" to reflect this.
After all, anyone reading the minutes could get the impression that the publication of these representations had led to wholesale threats of legal action.
However, the Director of Development assured the meeting that more than one example had been provided by Cllr Lewis.
At my age you learn not to be too adamant about things you think you remember, and knowing how easy it is to nod off when Cabinet members are reading out the answers prepared for them by officers, I let the matter drop..
Helpfully, the Director of Development has now sent me a copy of the answer he prepared for Cllr Lewis to read out at the meeting in May.
" Yes, there have been instances where the publishing of third party representations on the website has caused complaint, for example:
1. One objector considered that the content of the applicant's rebuttal of his objection which was published on our website was defamatory and employed a solicitor to instigate action against the Authority for damage to his reputation. The offending letter was quickly removed from the website and the complainant withdrew his action.
2. A neighbour sent a letter referring to the application complaining that the work was not being undertaken in accordance with the scheme. As the letter quoted the application number it was wrongly recorded as a letter of representation on a planning application instead of an enforcement matter. The neighbour was subsequently approached in an allegedly intimidating manner by the applicant which led to a complaint by the neighbour to the Information Commissioner who investigated. Whilst he found that we were at fault in publishing the letter he was satisfied that we were taking steps to avoid a repeat of the error and thus did not impose a financial penalty."
It is interesting to speculate why this full answer wasn't included in the minutes
But leaving that to one side, what this shows is that I was right, because the second example given was not even a representation regarding a planning application and it only appeared in the file because of a clerical error.
Furthermore, in terms of Cllr Lee's question, it didn't lead to a complaint that the council was publishing defamatory material, but to a complaint to the Information Commissioner that the council had breached the Data Protection Act by wrongful disclosure of personal information.
So though I failed to get the minutes changed to reflect what was actually said, I at least have the consolation of knowing that the antique grey matter is still in reasonably good order
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