June 25 2009

Interesting times

Yesterday, I toddled along to the National Park offices to witness the authority's monthly meeting.
Of particular interest to me were the last two items on the agenda.
11 . To consider whether the public should be excluded from the meeting during the consideration of the following items due to the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in Paragraphs 12, 13 and 14 of Part 4 of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972

12 . To consider the following report:
Claim for indemnity of legal costs and expenses.
To consider a supplementary report by the monitoring officer in relation to a claim by a member for indemnity of legal costs and expenses incurred.

This matter had already been considered at the May meeting when, the minutes record, the committee went into private session where
"Members considered a detailed report by the Monitoring Officer in relation to a claim by a Member for indemnity of legal costs and expenses incurred in defending their good name."
That meeting decided to defer the issue to enable the monitoring officer to obtain a full breakdown of the costs charged by the member's legal representatives.
As I said on 21 May (Strange developments), this mysterious member is none other than Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse who is looking for a refund of his legal bill incurred in defending himself against the Ombudsman's findings that, as the owner of potential development land within the National Park, he had breached the Code of Conduct by failing to declare an interest during the authority's consideration of what became known as the "homes for locals policy" (Whitehall farce) (Two sides to every story) (Simple explanation).
Previously, I speculated that these legal fees might be equivalent to the price of a new Range Rover (£28,500 basic) but I now understand that this was a gross underestimation and that if his claim is met in full you can throw in a Ford Fiesta for the missus.
All paid for the taxpayer, of course.
At yesterday's meeting Cllr Michael Williams proposed that the issue should be discussed in open session and called for a recorded vote.
Cllr Allen-Mirehouse declared an interest and said he would neither speak nor vote on the matter.
The authority's solicitor David Prescott suggested that, "for his own protection", Cllr Allen-Mirehouse should consider whether he had a "prejudicial interest".
To which the member replied: "That is why I declared an interest and said I wouldn't speak or vote".
The monitoring officer, John Parsons, intervened to say: "It is clear that the member has a prejudicial interest".
To which Cllr Michael Williams added that the Code of Conduct required any member with a prejudicial interest to withdraw from the meeting.
Mr Parsons explained that the reason members were required to withdraw in these circumstances was the perception that their presence might influence the way other members voted.
The Code of Conduct provides that: Participation in Relation to Disclosed Interests
14.(1) Subject to sub-paragraphs (2), (3) and (4), 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
(a) withdraw from the room, chamber or place where a meeting considering the business is being held.
Sub paragraphs (2), (3) and (4) have no relevance to the present case.
But despite the advice of the monitoring officer that he was risking a "red card" and that "this is a 'show and go' situation - clear as that", Cllr Allen-Mirehouse chose to stay.
For the record only Cllrs Tony Brinsden and Michael Williams voted against the proposal to go into secret session. The rest - Cllr Allen-Mirehouse's Independent party colleagues (Cllrs Lyn Davies, Michael Evans, Robin Evans, Rob Lewis, Peter Morgan and Leslie Raymond); the Welsh Assembly nominees: (David Ellis, Tim Giles, Christine Gwyther and Richard Howells); and Simon Hancock (Labour) all decided it was better that the public were kept in the dark.
So much for the new-found enthusiasm for transparency!
Not that it would have made much difference, except to readers of this column, because the Western Telegraph couldn't even be bothered to send a reporter.
In the event, the substantive issue of whether the £40,000 should be paid was deferred to a future date.
It did occur to me to refer Cllr Allen-Mirehouse's apparent breach to the Ombudsman, but, while reading through the Code of Conduct, I noticed:
6.(1) You must:
(c) report to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales and to your authority's monitoring officer any conduct by another member which you reasonably believe breaches this code of conduct.

Given the monitoring officer's crystal clear advice it should not be too difficult for all thirteen members present at the National Park meeting to "reasonably believe" that the Code has been breached.
Presumably, the words "You must" indicate that anyone who does "reasonably believe" and who fails to report the matter would themselves be in breach of the Code.
I will await developments before testing this last proposition.
For those interested, relevant provisions of the Code can be found at (Extracts).



Deadly cure


Three weeks, now, without a cigarette - have I cracked it?
Other quitters warn me not to become complacent - the urge can creep up on you without warning at any time of day or night.
I should say that last week's piece (Hard going) was rather misleading .
The decent second hand car and the cruise were for a twenty-a-day man - at my rate of attrition, by this time next year, I could be driving a Range Rover Discovery..
According to the anti-smoking information given to me by the NHS, in addition to the loss of the aesthetically pleasing wreaths of blue smoke curling up towards the ceiling, giving up the weed can leave you feeling weak, irritable , nervous, anxious, drowsy, dizzy, unable to concentrate; and cause headaches, sleep disturbance, cough, flu-like symptoms and changes of mood." (Never a truer word- good job we haven't got a cat or the RSPCA would be calling around, Grumpette)
It would be dishonest to give the impression that my kicking this filthy habit is all down to willpower because nicotine patches have also played their part.
As the leaflet in the packet says: "The patches relieve some of the unpleasant symptoms, such as feeling ill or irritable, that smokers often feel when they try to give up".
However, absorbing nicotine through the skin rather than the lungs is not a ball of chalk because the leaflet also lists the following side effects
"Abnormal dreams, trembling, palpitations, shortness of breath, feeling/being sick, indigestion, stomach pains, diarrhoea, constipation, sweating, dry mouth, skin reactions; joint, muscle, chest and limb pains; tiredness and feeling unwell."
Can cigarettes really be a bigger health hazard than this?

Serious business

I recently came across a copy of Haverfordwest Town Council's minutes for its June meeting which record the proceedings of the Civic Events committee of 9 May.
Under the heading "PROTOCOL FOR OFFICERS" I read that: "Discussion of this matter has been requested by Cllr R Thomas and in his absence Cllr P Lewis spoke, referring to the fact that the Sheriff has attended a HIP [don't ask] function in Haverfordwest and had worn his chain without informing anyone that he was doing so. The Mayor had not been invited to the function. Cllr J Campbell agreed that this was not acceptable and that guidance should be included in the Guide to Practice and Procedure for incoming officers on the correct protocol.
*Cllr R Thomas arrived at this point.
Cllr Thomas was briefed on the discussion and agreed with Cllr Campbell's suggestion. It was also suggested that officers liaise with each other before attending functions so that no confusion occurs. Cllr Buckfield [the offending chain-wearer] stated that he had followed the Guidance to the letter and had not been told either as Mayor or Sheriff to inform other officers of events he was attending. He stated that neither the Mayor nor Deputy Mayor had ever informed him of events they were attending. Cllr Lewis stated that this requirement did not apply to the Mayor. Cllr Buckfield reserved the right to speak on this issue at Full Council."
It would seem that Haverforwest Town Council is a veritable minefield for casual dressers because elsewhere in the minutes I read that: "Cllr Don Twigg had circulated a letter from Lt Commander Griggs of Haverfordwest branch of the British Legion relating to the wearing of Town Council medals" as a result of which it was resolved that: "That council medals be worn on the right as usual".
And, on a less serious note, that the wine for Mayor-making be supplied by the Show Society rather than Oberkirch - Haverfordwest's twin town - on the grounds that the German stuff was "quite expensive".
It was also agreed that two bottles per table should be allocated and that each table should have a councillor to "monitor the wine levels to avoid waste".
Two bottles per table? waste? - hardly what you'd call a bundle of fun.

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