The November meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council kicked off with the usual round of apologies for absence, including once again Cllr Meryl Gravell who hasn't shown up since July despite holding one of the most important portfolios on the governing Executive Board. For all those worried about her welfare, a quick glance at the output of the council's press office will show that she is alive and well and busy with her PR work.
After various tributes to Cllr WD Thomas (Dai Trelech), council settled down to discuss the WLGA's peer review of governance. Presenting the debate, Daniel Hurford of the WLGA said that parts of the report would make uncomfortable reading for some people.
Perhaps that would explain Meryl's absence.
Even without her, the debate made for uncomfortable viewing, with some truly dire performances from the Independents. The chair, Daff Davies (Ind), bumbled his way through as usual, hopelessly lost in the procedural detail, and obviously interested only in getting the whole thing over and done with as quickly as possible and in time for lunch. Mair Stephens (Ind), the council's Welsh language champion and a member of the Executive Board, rarely speaks, but this time gave a confused speech entirely in English about the need to ensure that any changes conform with the law.
However the real star of the show was the Independent leader, Pam Palmer, who gave a spectacularly bad tempered and cringe inducing performance. More on that later.
In his capacity as leader, Kevin Madge (Lab) made one of his more interesting speeches.
Firstly, he concentrated exclusively on the aspects of the WLGA report concerning the constitution, making no mention of the need for a change of culture which was a key part of the panel's findings. Secondly he poured rather lukewarm water on the 39 recommendations. He could live with them - he could even accept the bulk of them - but there were question marks over whether some of the proposals would "fit in" with Carmarthenshire and the timing of changes.
Whole-hearted enthusiastic acceptance it wasn't.
He argued that the constitution, which the WLGA panel found to be one of the more illiberal examples of its kind in Wales, had been in force since 1995, and that there had been ample opportunities to change it. If he was guilty, so was everybody else.
As he had reminded the council when it paid tribute to Dai Trelech, Kevin Madge has also been a permanent fixture on the council since 1995, and for much of that time he has sat at the top table alongside Meryl Gravell and Pam Palmer.
What he forgot was that the constitution has in fact been amended repeatedly since 1995, and every one of the changes which he voted for was designed to make the council even less transparent and democratic.
Fortunately, Cllr Bill Thomas (Lab) was on hand to remind him. The constitution was based on the old Dyfed constitution, he said, and it had been strangled. "We have made hundreds of changes in this chamber", he added, and now "we cannot speak or ask questions".
The WLGA recommendations would take the council back to a time when the council did things properly, with full and accurate meeting minutes and reports which contain the information councillors need to make decisions. "We are not here by right, but sent here by the people we represent", he concluded.
If that wasn't embarrassing enough, Cllr Thomas reminded Kevin Madge that he too had been a councillor since 1995, but Kevin had forgotten his fellow Labour councillor when he recited a list of those councillors (mainly Independents) who had been around since the year dot.
The list of changes Cllr Thomas referred to includes restrictions on questions which may be asked by members of the public, abolishing recorded votes on committees, the infamous libel clause (suspended but not repealed) and draconian restrictions on backbench and opposition councillors wishing to table motions for debate.
More often than not changes to the written rules have not even been needed - all that was required was the say-so of the chief executive and the (acting) head of law to remove emergency items from the agenda, prevent follow-up questions, require members of the public to give their names and addresses in writing before being allowed to attend meetings, or ban filming or the recording of council meetings by the public. All those things have happened, and you will not find a word about any of them in the constitution, although Kevin Madge supported all of them.
For Plaid Emlyn Dole reminded councillors that the WLGA's recommendations were about more than tinkering with the constitution. They called for a change of culture and attitude. It was disappointing to hear the Leader, Kevin Madge, saying he could live with the proposals (or some of them). What was needed was a collective commitment to change.
Replying for the Independents, Pam Palmer first of all took a swipe at the local press for not reporting all the good things she and her colleagues were doing.
She had clearly missed the bits of the WLGA report which criticised the council for its treatment of the press, its defensiveness and reluctance to accept criticism.
Some of the recommendations were not a problem at all, she opined, suggesting that other parts of the report clearly were. And it all needed to be looked at in very, very close detail. Just as with Kevin Madge, Pam had also missed all the references in the report about the need for a change of culture.
Turning up the cringe factor to max, she bobbed up and down repeatedly, and at one point shouted angrily at the opposition benches. "Be quiet!" she ordered, before delivering a lecture on trust. Trust was a two-way street, she said, although it was not clear whether she thought that the opposition did not trust her, or she did not trust the opposition.
Either way, she was demanding that everyone should suspend disbelief, forget her 20 year track record and place their trust in her.
She then ticked off the opposition, reminding them that distinguished visitors were present and witnessing the meeting. "Just wait until they have gone", she might have added.
Pam had of course forgotten about all those other visitors - the great unwashed electorate - watching the webcast. Perhaps she had been right to oppose allowing the cameras in after all.
Perhaps these old leopards will change their spots, and perhaps Pam, Meryl and Kev will usher in a new period of openness and democratic transparency. Perhaps the Romanovs and Bourbons really had wanted to give power to the people after all.
Confusion reigned at this point, with two motions before the council. The Chair had lost the plot some time before, and so Calum Higgins (Lab) rose to clarify matters.
"Wrong!" exclaimed the chief executive with glee. He did not wish to lead the council (ho ho) or wish to appear overbearing (hilarity), but it was all very simple.
He then cobbled together a compromise, composite motion to set up a working group with an action plan which was accepted unanimously.
Mr James grinned like the proverbial Cheshire cat and purred with self satisfaction.
He had also just given a convincing demonstration of why, when it puts councillors such as Daff Davies into positions of responsibility, the council needs a chief executive.
Perhaps it might not be such a good idea to accept his proposal to make the post redundant after all.