Yesterday was something of a field day for council watchers in Carmarthenshire. First we had a report in the Western Mail revealing that various options were being considered in response to Mark James's application to leave the council under its severance scheme, with the possibility that a golden goodbye could cost as much as £446,000.
Next we had Callum Higgins telling the South Wales Guardian that the Labour group would block a payment. Then Kevin Madge, the Labour leader of the council, entered the fray. Caebrwyn reports that, true to form, Kev does what he always does when cornered: blame it all on the Plaid Cymru opposition group which he said had leaked the proposals he had been sitting on for five weeks.
But it didn't all end there. Next we had a anonymous Labour source telling the South Wales Guardian that the Labour group had decided to reject three of the most "viable" options for a pay-off and would be going for what it termed "the status quo" option which would either leave Mr James in post or force him to resign.
The County Council itself remained very tight-lipped, with the press office saying only, "We are currently in the process of considering the severance applications, with a view to releasing eligible applicants at the end of March 2015. This is in accordance with our agreed severance scheme and timetable."
Callum Higgins' contribution was obvious electioneering, and his appearance on the front page of this week's South Wales Guardian would clearly have been scripted and approved by Kevin Madge and other more senior Labour figures, but this little piece of political spin could come back to bite and cost council tax payers in Carmarthenshire dear.
Readers will recall one of the strangest episodes last year when Tim Kerr QC, the barrister employed by Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire county councils to defend their unlawful pension opt-out arrangements, appeared before councillors in Haverfordwest and pulled out some papers from an envelope naming various councillors who had expressed an opinion in the press that Bryn Parry-Jones should go.
In Mr Kerr's view, they had pre-judged the decision they were now being invited to make and could therefore find themselves in breach of the code of conduct and subject to disciplinary proceedings. The papers, it turned out, had been handed to him by the council's Monitoring Officer, and the ruse worked.
Callum Higgins' outing in the pages of the South Wales Guardian was rather more blatant than anything that opposition councillors in Pembrokeshire did, and he implicated not just himself but the entire Labour group, which he said was "united in their opposition" to a payout.
This raises the prospect that under "Kerr's law" the Labour group in County Hall could find itself debarred from making a decision on Mr James's future if the matter ever goes before full council.
But it does not end there.
County councillors are not just our elected representatives but Mr James's employers, and by making his comments yesterday, Callum Higgins could well find himself to be in breach of the councillors' code of conduct for releasing confidential information about an employee.
What is more, Callum has handed the chief executive a golden ticket to sue the council for breaches of his employment rights, and as we all know, Mr James is no slouch when it comes to using legal enforcers and the courts to protect his interests.
Far from drawing a line under the whole saga, as Kevin Madge has repeatedly hoped would happen, he and Callum have just ensured that the row will rumble on for months to come with who knows what unpleasant hidden surprises.
The Kerr interpretation of the code of conduct an be summed up with one word: rubbish.
The code of conduct was changed 2 years ago in wales, to allow Councillors to express an opinion before any meeting as long as they state in the meeting that they have considered all the evidence before them. Carms councillors were given training on this in their induction. In Pembs, Kerr and the officers decided not to tell Councllors that the old predetermined opinion rules were thrown out in 2012. I'm very sure that Calum Higgins who is a qualified barrister will have done his homework.
Could someone point to me what confidential information Cllr Higgins has divulged? Saying that the labour group won't back a payout is one thing, but I can't see any confidential info.
All the confidential info was divulged to the western Mail: amounts and options.
Let him sue the council, the layout is limited to 70k, that's much less than 440! Well played I think. He's never taken legal action when he's had to pay for his own lawyers so I don't think he bother this time!
I for one was glad to hear a Councillor telling him what we want said. If we had heard nothing yesterday I would be more worried. Let him sue the Council, at least he'll be gone.
A slightly worried sounding tweet from Cllr Higgins this morning;
"FYI councillors are allowed to express opinions before a vote in a meeting. The duty under our code is to have an open mind in the meeting"
I'm not sure that declaring how the Labour group will vote is 'expressing an opinion'.
Are you now relying on the Kerr you once ridiculed? The attempt to intimidate Cllrs by telling them they have given an opinion and therefore cannot vote is wrong. Cllrs should go for it.
Let's hope you're right. Which could mean - for the first time ever - that many people will be supporting Mark James.
Sour grapes because Plaid were late in the starting blocks on this? I doubt if there is any breach here but I guess it makes good headlines for you and your quest to make all Wales, plaid.
Anon @11.23 - I don't think for a minute that Kerr was right - but isn't it ironic that he was Labour in Carmarthenshire not only supported the decision to engage him to fight the WAO but still maintains that it was a good use of public money?
Anon@10.07 - he could be able to sue for more than constructive dismissal, and don't forget that compensation of £70k+ would come with a hefty additional legal bill attached.
He probably would not need to dip into his own pockets either, but might be able to rely on SOLACE, that rather exclusive trade union which fights for the rights of council chief executives.
SOLACE most likely played a part in last year's peculiar compromise whereby Mr James "voluntarily stepped aside" while the police decided what to do.
James is demanding that Jacquie Thomas sells her home to pay damages for exposing him.
Does anyone know how to crowd-fund or whatever they call it as I would like to donate.
Isn't all this getting a little out of hand? Surely the basic issue regarding the Chief Executives request for severance is that his request be treated the same as the other 400 requests. Do all 400 have 10 options or is it purely yes we can afford to let you go or no we can't which leaves them the options of staying and getting on with or leave/ retire of their own accord with whatever pension rights they have accrued ? Am I missing something ?
Much as I would hate to put even one halfpenny into MJ's greedy pocket, if we can help Jacqui by raising funds to get him off her back then I, too, will contribute
If the guy had any moral fiber he would just leave no pay off, but looking at his track record - the guys doesn't have a moral bone in his spineless body!! The next step is to make sure this NEVER happens again and contracts are adjusted for future employees. WHY DO WE PAY COUNCIL TAX FOR WHAT CAN ONLY BE DESCRIBED AS OVER PAID DISHONEST MORONS!??!!
What if Mt James stays on and does not get severance
Call his bluff. The cost of fighting him in the courts is unlikely to be more than this greedy, grasping parasite is claiming!
Interesting to read about Kerr Ching/Cur - oh hang on - wrong pronunciation - should it be CaD? - 's misleading of the councillors in Pembs regarding councillors expressing an opinion ahead of a decision and it therefore precluding themselves from the decision. I'd have thought this would breach the CCBE's Code of Conduct. That lawyers, those chief exec's - Peas in a Pod, them lot.
Also, isn't it round these parts reminiscent of communism when it doesn't work? I.e. the absolute power, the biggest salaries, the most exclusive properties all held by publicly funded officials?
Breach of trust and confidence is a legal reason to terminate employment.
Not always within C.C.C, depends who you are!
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