Leafing through the electronic pages of the South Wales Guardian yesterday in the wake of the news that Carmarthenshire County Council is once again bullying the local press, my eye was caught by an exclusive (here) revealing that council leader Kevin Madge has decided to hold a meeting of the council's Executive Board in Ammanford Town Hall on 30 July.
This is the first time this august body will have met outside the confines of County Hall in Carmarthen, and Kev says he wants to show us all that he "means business".
The Guardian was quite taken with the idea, and ran an editorial praising the decision. This is not a rabid, council-bashing newspaper by any stretch of the imagination, so the council's decision to withdraw advertising when the paper stepped ever so slightly out of line and criticised the management of a regeneration project is even more remarkable and worrying.
In its editorial, the paper says that critics will complain that nothing much has changed on the council,
"But the fact a Garnant-based councillor is now at the helm really
should make a difference as far as the Amman Valley is concerned.
And it refers, in a slightly cheeky way, to the pork barrel politics of local government,
Just look at the amenities the home villages of past leaders now enjoy!"
But back to the meeting of the Executive Board.
In recent years, beginning I think with Gordon Brown, the British government has hit the road several times and held cabinet meetings in places such as Birmingham and Manchester as part of a PR exercise to try to convince voters that the government is aware that there may be life outside the M25.
Whatever else Kev is, nobody has ever accused him of being an original thinker, and it is pretty obvious where he got this idea. As for "meaning business", any Ammanford residents intending to go to the meeting will be bitterly disappointed if they are expecting lively discussion and debate of the issues that matter to them.
The fact is that there are two meetings of the Executive Board. The first is held in private, with the public and press excluded. This is where decisions are made.
The second, which is what the people of Ammanford will see, is purely a Soviet-style PR exercise. Little speeches will be made (or in the case of Kevin Madge, interminable, waffling and meaningless monologues) in praise of the administration and its supreme wisdom in all matters. And every item will be approved UNANIMOUSLY (the minutes of these meetings like capital letters).
If everyone turns up, the public will see 10 executive councillors, most of whom will be entitled to free bus passes, and up to 15 assorted officers, most of whom will remain silent throughout. For reasons Cneifiwr has never understood, quite a high proportion of the male officers favour shaved and polished heads. Perhaps it's a local government fashion.
Unless there is a dramatic departure from tradition, any locals hoping to ask impromptu questions of their leaders will also be disappointed, although under the constitution they may submit written questions at least seven working days beforehand to the Chief Executive, who will decide whether the questions are appropriate. Questions which are similar to any question asked in a council meeting in the previous six months will be rejected, and questioners must state which member of the Executive Board they wish to answer their query.
No questions, then.
If it is anything like County Hall, members of the public will also be asked to provide their names and addresses and sign declarations that they will not film or otherwise record any part of the meeting.
For the avoidance of doubt, as the lawyers like to say, and to avoid disappointment, the council's away-day is entirely separate from the Amman Valley Big Day Out, billed by the South Wales Guardian as a "feast of fun and frolics".