Tuesday 18 February 2014

Council Crisis: Rebecca Evans AM wades in

The fallout from the farcical meeting in Pembrokeshire on Friday continues, with Rebecca Evans, the Labour AM for Mid and West Wales, calling for chief executive Bryn Parry Jones to be stripped of his role as returning officer in the elections to the European Parliament to be held this May "until local councillors are allowed to have a proper debate and police investigations are concluded".

"The public must have complete confidence in the election process, and in all of the people involved. Until  the police investigation is concluded, alternative arrangements must be made – and that means relieving Bryn Parry Jones of his Returning Officer role", Ms Evans told the Western Telegraph.

For an elected politician from a major political party to say that public confidence in the election process could be undermined if Mr Parry Jones is allowed to continue as returning officer is a mark of just how low public confidence in local government in this part of Wales has sunk.

Michael Williams, who leads the Plaid Cymru group on the council, has called on the Welsh Government to send in commissioners to run the county, the BBC is reporting. Cllr Williams said there was an urgent need for intervention after Friday's meeting.

In Carmarthenshire, Mark James also enjoys a very lucrative sideline as returning officer in elections. It will be recalled that in 2012 he paid himself £20,000 in expenses, almost two months in advance of the local elections under one of Carmarthenshire's "special arrangements".

Whether Mr James will also step down as returning officer is not clear, but what is abundantly clear is that he has lost the confidence of a very large proportion of councillors and the public.

Labour councillors in Carmarthenshire who were going around saying that this was all a Plaid vendetta and just newspaper headlines might want to talk to Rebecca Evans.

Meanwhile Pembrokeshire County Council has released the archived footage of last Friday's webcast (here).

One of the most disturbing aspects of the meeting was the role played by the council's Monitoring Officer, who like all council officers is supposed to be strictly politically neutral. During the meeting it was revealed that Mr Harding had passed a collection of newspaper clippings and names of opposition councillors who had called for the suspension or resignation of the chief executive to Mr Timothy Kerr QC on his way to Haverfordwest.

Cllr Jacob Williams notes on his blog that deputy leader of the council, Cllr Rob Lewis, was caught on camera holding a copy of the material which had come into Mr Kerr's possession.

There is nothing to suggest that Mrs Linda Rees Jones, the Monitoring Officer in Carmarthenshire, has yet taken to handing envelopes to London lawyers in the back of council limos, but anyone watching her performance in council meetings during the last year might also have cause to wonder whether the roles of neutral, impartial Monitoring Officer and legal enforcer for the ruling junta have somehow got mixed up.

There are very few things the author of this blog would agree on with Meryl Gravell and Pam Palmer, but the decision to start filming council meetings was one of the biggest mistakes the ruling cliques in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire have ever made. As Louis Brandeis, one-time Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court once said, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant".


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