Sunday 30 September 2012

Storm surge on the Tywi

After a quiet spring and summer, County Hall in Carmarthen looks set to be battered by some very stormy weather in the months ahead.

Growing commitments away from the blogosphere mean that Cneifiwr will not be able to post as often as usual for a while, but this blog will try to chronicle at least some of the more interesting developments.

The autumn kicked off with a meeting of the full council that gave us our first real taste of things to come. It was good to note that there are now more councillors who are prepared to question things and kick up a fuss, although they are still a minority.

The council's heavily amended constitution, with its battery of clauses and procedural devices for silencing critics, preventing open debate and suffocating awkward questions, will have a lot of work to do. In the September meeting it had to brought out to prevent a question about councillors' allowances, to veto a motion calling for a living wage to be paid to the poorest paid council staff, to curb debate about the council's treatment of tenants with disabilities and to prevent discussion of the mounting problems Llanelli faces with waste water and an overloaded sewage system.

The new council leader, Kevin Madge, has got off to a spectacularly dreadful start with the row of the Sainsbury's planning applications in Llandeilo and Cross Hands. He now faces a motion demanding a formal apology at next week's meeting, and may soon be grappling with a motion of no confidence.

Plaid Cymru has issued a strongly worded statement, together with a copy of the motion (here), and Jonathan Edwards MP will be in the public gallery to witness the debate. No doubt he will be subjected to the same sinister and intrusive entry procedures as other members of the public before he is allowed in.

It is a pity that more of our elected politicians don't put themselves through this rigmarole. If they did, we might even hear some of the elected councillors calling the officers to order and telling them to treat the public with respect.

The motion, which has been tabled by Cllr Darren Price, takes Kevin Madge to task for his wildly misleading claims about the Sainsbury's applications, and Jonathan Edwards goes on to point out that the misuse of the council's press office has compromised the council's supposedly politically neutral staff.

Other issues likely to surface in the next few months include more from the Ombudsman for Public Services, who has several reports on the council pending.

Readers of the Carmarthen Journal two weeks were certainly shocked by an excellent report on the case of Mr M, whose complaint against the council was upheld by the Ombudsman.

It has been a long time since we had such honest and robust reporting from the Journal, which was sounding more and more like an extended version of the council's own propaganda sheet. The South Wales Guardian has also responded to threats from County Hall with defiance. Perhaps the worm is finally turning.

Among the many other issues bubbling away, one of the most interesting will be the libel case involving the Chief Executive and Jacqui Thompson.

The case is scheduled finally to reach court in December, and it has already cost the council taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds. Jacqui has made no secret of the fact that she always wanted a settlement that would have avoided going to court and astronomical costs, but it seems that she is faced with a determination to go all the way, backed by a blank cheque from you, me and every other resident of the county, and represented (of course) by some of the best and most expensive legal practitioners in the country.

Interesting times, indeed.


Jacob Mann said...

And by storm the author meant something a bit more than just the literal meaning. Just as seasons changed the turn of events somehow went along with the weather's mood from calm and soothing to terrible winds and cold cheeks.

madaxeman said...

Declaration of Interest : It was my blog that Mark Jame's comments appeared on.

Personally, I have strong opinions on this topic - but I'm staying out of things which are, at the end of the day, before the court.

I am looking forward to expressing myself more freely following the case...

Cneifiwr said...

Thanks for reminding us of that. It's probably worth remind readers that there are two parts to this case:

1. Jacqui Thompson is suing the chief executive for an alleged libel contained in a letter he wrote to the Madaxeman blog.
2. The chief executive is in his turn suing Jacqui Thompson for alleged defamatory statements contained in her blog.

It is normal practice for councils to provide officers with indemnities (i.e. pay their legal costs) where the officer is defending a claim.

It is extremely rare for councils to pay the costs of an officer suing someone else, and the legal basis for this is much less certain. Carmarthenshire does not appear to be worried by this, however.

johnsouthwales said...

personally i would say plaid have a bit of a cheek complaining when they have been messing constituents around themselves...
so when the constituents complain about plaid, nothing gets done.
Long stories....

Anonymous said...

It is extremely rare for councils to pay the costs of an officer suing someone else. Don't you mean it is unheard of? As a taxpayer, I am incensed that my hard earned cash is going to pay this man's exorbitant wages let alone paying his (the Claimants) legal fees to take libel action against a member of the public.