Carmarthenshire County Council has been a basket case of local government for some time, but it is no exaggeration to say that we reached a new all-time low at today's meeting. Open debate was crushed and democracy trashed, as the meeting was reduced to an empty sham held solely for the purpose of lavishing praise on the council's leadership and senior officers.
The meeting began with the usual announcement of apologies received, and once again the list of absentees was a long one. The Chair, who was suffering from a fluey cold, went through the usual births, deaths and marriages announcements. For the November meeting she should add Democracy to the list of those recently departed, because what we were about to witness were the agonised twitchings of a patient under the tender care of Dr James, who stood at the bedside with a strategically placed pillow.
Things took a serious turn as the Chair read out an e-mail complaining that too many councillors were breaking the rules laid down for council meetings and leaving the chamber early without giving a reason.
Next we turned to the tragic case of the child abduction in Machynlleth, and various senior councillors rose to praise the efforts of the police.
Cllr Pam Palmer, now thankfully fully restored to health after being struck down by something unpleasant while on holiday in Greece (perhaps she forgot to pack the Immodium), rose to echo the sentiments and to propose that the Council write to the Mayor of "that town whose name I cannot pronounce".
This was the same Pam Palmer who last year started tweeting in literary Welsh on Twitter to celebrate Democracy Week, so her inability to pronounce Machynlleth for someone who had apparently mastered the finer points of the impersonal forms of Welsh verbal nouns came as something as a surprise. Unless, just like democracy in Carmarthenshire, the whole exercise was a sham.
The Chair, Cllr Siân Thomas, then welcomed MP Jonathan Edwards who was observing proceedings with the plebs in the gallery. She went on to tell us that she had been to the Sheep Fair in Llandovery where someone had unsuccessfully tried to teach her how to shear a sheep. Next she advertised a Twmpath, which is a sort of Welsh barn dance, and admitted that she rather enjoyed them because it gave her an opportunity to grab hold of every man in the room.
Cneifiwr is quite a fan of the Chair, it has to be said, and would welcome any opportunity to teach her the finer points of shearing, followed by a dance and a roll in the hay.
Attention finally turned to business, and Cllr Siân Caiach was first out of the traps to complain that her request (and immediate refusal) at the September meeting to be allowed to record the meeting had not been mentioned in the meeting minutes. She pointed out that it was very strange that councillors were not allowed to record their own meetings, and she noted that there was no mention of a ban in the constitution.
As we shall see later, the Council is probably unique in having two, and possibly three, constitutions.
The Chair explained that the Task and Finish group which had been looking at the issue had finally issued its report and recommendations. The main recommendation is that the council should pilot a filmed record of some meetings, although these recordings would be edited, and most likely not made available until at least 2 weeks later (just like meeting minutes).
We can probably guess who would be in charge of editing and removing any awkward bits.
Next came a motion on notice from one of the Plaid Cymru councillors. This was not the motion we had been expecting, but dealt instead with the decision by Leighton Andrews to order the remarking of English GCSE results in Wales. Everybody agreed that was a good thing.
The second point made by the motion was that Wales needed to improve educational attainment, and should look at the examples set by the top-ranked countries in the Pisa tables rather than glancing across the border at England all the time.
Siân Caiach made the point that we need to place more emphasis on good teaching rather than concentrating on buildings.