Keith Davies (Lab), the AM for Llanelli has called for the immediate suspension of Mark James (South Wales Guardian reports). In his interview Keith Davies says that his primary concern is over the pension scandal.
This intervention, which has been rumoured for a few days, will probably turn out to be the end of the road for the beleaguered chief executive because it will make it easier for some Labour councillors to break ranks with Kevin Madge and vote with Plaid.
Rhodri Glyn Thomas (Plaid), the AM for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, has responded to Mr Davies's comments:
“Plaid Cymru welcomes the comments of Llanelli Assembly Member, Keith Davies. We are pleased at least somebody in the Labour party – eight days after the damning reports were published – has finally recognised the severity of the reports’ conclusions. We note, however, that Keith Davies has nothing to say on his Labour colleagues’ unlawful decision to approve the use of public money to fund the Chief Executive’s legal costs.
“Council Leader Kevin Madge and the rest of the Executive Board are extremely isolated now as they continue to pledge their full support to the council officers.
“Officers must be held to account, but it is too simplistic for Keith Davies to say officers misled elected members. The elected leadership is weak and incompetent, and have proved themselves incapable of carrying out their jobs properly. They must take political responsibility for the unlawful decisions they took.
“As the splits in the Labour party start to widen, what is clear in Carmarthenshire is that only Plaid Cymru is prepared to uphold the integrity of the Wales Audit Office for the good of the county.
“By disputing the independent reports, Kevin Madge and the Labour party are willing to sign a blank cheque to use more taxpayers’ money in court. Plaid Cymru will continue to stand up for Carmarthenshire ratepayers and continues to believe, as we have from day one, that officers should go and executive board members should resign.”
At last month's stage managed meeting of the Executive Board Kevin Madge used the occasion to claim, among other things, that "we tried for an out of court settlement" in the libel case to give the impression that Jacqui Thompson had rejected the council's attempts to secure a compromise. Note the use of "we" to describe a case which in theory at least was an action involving Mark James as a private individual.
In her blog, Jacqui has now responded as follows:
I was threatened with the counterclaim in November 2011 if I did not settle on the council's terms, whether the Exec Board were aware of this, or even the auditors, I don't know. Further negotiations leading up to Christmas 2011 led to an agreement to settle the case on agreed mutual terms. However, this agreement failed to materialise after the council refused to respond.
There are rumours of troop movements and the sound of heavy artillery being moved into place in preparation for a "big announcement" on Monday, with intervention from Party HQ. Will Kev be heading off for an unplanned winter sunshine cruise very soon?
Meanwhile, after wobbling about a bit in the last few days, Calum Higgins, Labour's great white hope for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, last night came out on Pawb a'i Farn (see S4C Clic) in support of Kev and backed his decision to keep those responsible for what the WAO terms unlawful decisions in their jobs.
It is rumoured that the council leadership has decided to engage the services of its favourite QC, Mr Timothy "Genius" Kerr, to present its case to councillors on 27 February.
Several local residents have written to Lesley Griffiths (Lab), Minister for Local Government, asking her what she plans to do about the best council in Wales.
All have received near identical replies which take a page and a quarter to say "nothing". She says she welcomes the WAO reports and believes that they will help improve governance in some areas, but responsibility really lies with local councillors.
In response to requests to put Carmarthenshire into special measures, Ms Griffiths says that she can only act if the Auditor General for Wales recommends intervention.
More public minded citizens have written to the police with information and requests for an urgent investigation. Cneifiwr understands that the boys in blue are now taking a very close interest in what is happening on Jail Hill.
Cllr Siân Caiach has written to the the council's ironically named Democratic Services department (headed by no less a personage than Mrs Linda Rees Jones, the council's very busy acting Head of Law) asking them to pass on the following complaint:
"Dear Press Office,
Your press release yesterday beginning "Councillors and officials ..........say they are bitterly disappointed and frustrated at misinformation being circulated", which goes on to imply that the Councillors are all supportive of your view that the Wales Audit Office are possibly misinformed, incompetent and completely wrong about the illegal payments judged to have been made to our chief executive.
Yes, we are instructed to discuss the reports within 28 days but you insist on representing this meeting as merely an opportunity to show that the Wales Audit Office are mistaken about these matters by persuading the majority of 74 councillors that our officers are right and the Government's auditors are wrong. Our officers have already had the opportunity to make their case against the draft report, and the Wales Audit office has confirmed their initial opinion.
I presume you are instructed by the Council Leader, Kevin Madge, and in future I ask that Councillors are not mentioned in general, but by name.
I read the reports and the supplemental documents circulated to all Councillors. My conclusion was different to that of the Council Leader . The issues are not just related to the payments, but also to the fact that the majority of Councillors were either not informed at all as in the case of the pension payments, or misinformed as in the Libel Indemnity Case. This case is also critical and important as it appears to be an attempt by our council to bypass the law of defamation by using an officer as a proxy to issue a libel counter claim, something a Council cannot do. If this were legal any council with a compliant officer could sue any member of the public in this way, using public funds. Clearly, in my view, an affront to democracy.
I have decided, taking into account the prevailing view of my constituents and using my own knowledge and judgement, to request the Chief Constable to initiate an investigation based on the Wales Audit Office findings, into whether or not there has been misconduct in Public Office. The elected Councillors are ultimately responsible for the proper conduct of the Authority. As an elected Councillor I believe the proper course of action is for an investigation into how and why these situations occurred.
I am therefore not "bitterly disappointed and frustrated at the misinformation being circulated around the recent public interest report issued by the Wales audit office". I believe the WAO have issued this report after a careful examination of the facts and am unlikely to be bitterly disappointed by "misinformation" you have not shared with me. Any Councillors and Officers endorsing press releases should be named. Please do not make reference to "councillors" in generality again without contacting us."