Friday 9 December 2016


Update 12 December

For those who have not seen it yet, there is a fuller version of Cllr Lenny's statement and a lot of interesting comments on his Facebook page (here).


Following the rejection of his Notice of Motion (NoM) calling for a compromise to settle Carmarthenshire County Council's action against Jacqui Thompson, Cllr Alun Lenny (Plaid) has issued the following statement:

"Cllr Cefin Campbell and I had submitted a Notice of Motion to next week’s meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council urging the Executive Board and Chief Executive to seek means of settling the libel issue involving Jacqui Thompson in a way which would not result in her being forced to sell her home to pay damages and costs. The NoM was drawn up with the best of intentions, in an attempt to bring a conciliatory note to a toxic issue which has dragged on for several years. I’m sorry to say that the Chair has refused to place our NoM on the Agenda. He was guided by the legal department, who e-mailed us in his name. Basically, it said we had no business to interfere in the Chief Executive’s “private and personal” affairs and legal rights. It warned that such action could constitute contempt of court. Cefin and I were also accused of showing “extreme discourtesy” to the Chair by making the Press aware of our Notice of Motion before he had time to consider it. 

"For now, I will just say this.

"Many would say that the Chief Executive’s action was hardly “private and personal” as his counter-libel action was publicly funded by the Council, an indemnity deemed unlawful by the Welsh Audit Office.  As regards “extreme discourtesy” shown towards the Chair, that is utter nonsense. An elected member has the democratic right to make public an intended Notice of Motion at any time. Giving the public an opportunity to discuss such NoMs – or intended NoMs – is a key part of the democratic process. Cefin and I discussed seeking independent legal opinion, but concluded that enough money has been pocketed by lawyers and barristers in this matter already. We shall leave the court of public opinion to make its own judgement for now. But this is not the end of the matter…"

The last 24 hours have brought a powerful reminder that for all the talk of reform and change in County Hall, and despite the WLGA-led review of governance, the chief executive retains a vice-like grip on the running of the council, with councillors reduced to being impotent onlookers.

The checks and balances which are supposed to prevent abuses and protect the interests of the wider public have been subverted and corrupted.

Consider this: there are currently in Carmarthenshire a number of cases involving maladministration by the council of matters ranging from the protection of vulnerable adults to planning abuses which have been rumbling on for years and years - in some cases decades. The council has done everything in its power to frustrate justice for victims whose lives have been made hell. And yet in the case of Mr James, no stone has been left unturned and no expense spared to obtain "justice" because someone called him Pinocchio and described the libel indemnity arrangements as a slush fund.

As Cllr Lenny's statement suggests, what should be a clear-cut distinction between private and public interests has become hopelessly blurred, with the whole system rigged in favour of the chief executive.

According to the Constitution, the Chair of Council's duties include the following:

To preside over meetings of the Council, so that its business can be carried out efficiently and with regard to the rights of councillors and the interests of the community.

To ensure that the council meeting is a forum for the debate of matters of concern to the local community and the place at which councillors are able to hold the executive board and committee chairs to account.

The reality is very different. In recent years there have been good, bad and indifferent occupants of the Chair. The best have tried valiantly to perform their duties, but were bullied, hectored and coerced into submission. The bad and the indifferent have been nothing more than puppets who would be out of their depth in a paddling pool. The idea that the current chair, Cllr Eryl Morgan (Labour), would "consider" a Notice of Motion or be offended by press coverage of the motion is utterly cynical.

His job is to do as he's told to protect the rights and interests of the chief executive.

The role of the Monitoring Officer is supposed to be the "ethical eyes and ears" of the council. Their three main functions are:
  • to report on matters he or she believes are, or are likely to be, illegal or amount to maladministration;
  • to be responsible for matters relating to the conduct of councillors and officers; and
  • to be responsible for the operation of the council’s constitution. 
Here is a Monitoring Officer from the London Borough of Southwark describing her role in Local Government Lawyer:

An essential skill of the monitoring officer, which I think probably comes naturally to us as lawyers, is the ability to be seen to be fair and impartial at all times and to ensure that the appropriate processes are followed. It is important that you are able to maintain and uphold the position of fairness and transparency even when, at times, this can make you unpopular with chief officers and sometimes politicians.

In Carmarthenshire the Monitoring Officer and Head of Administration and Law is Mrs Linda Rees Jones, whose department's advice was famously described as "cavalier at best and incompetent at worst" by Sir David Lewis, a very eminent lawyer. Mrs Rees Jones was chosen by the chief executive using delegated powers to take over from her predecessor in an acting capacity. And there she remained in an acting capacity for years and years until the chief executive used other delegated powers to make her job permanent because she had carried out the role in an acting capacity for so long.

The role of Monitoring Officer is supposed to be independent of that of chief executive and is in theory one of the most important in local government. So important, in fact, that councillors would normally interview candidates and appoint the office holder themselves.

But not in Carmarthenshire.

During her long period in the job, a great deal of Mrs Rees Jones's time has been taken up by defending the chief executive and grappling with the fallout from decisions which benefited him personally.

Remember that bit about reporting on matters which she believes are, or are likely to be, illegal or amount to maladministration? Well, Mrs Rees Jones was tasked with piloting through the libel indemnity and the chief executive's pension arrangements which were both declared to be unlawful by the Wales Audit Office.

The blurring of public and private interests referred to by Mrs Rees Jones herself, the unorthodox nature of her appointment and her track record of relentless support for the chief executive's actions, mean that councillors in Carmarthenshire now find themselves in the very uncomfortable position of suspecting that the legal advice handed out by their chief legal officer and Monitoring Officer may not be as impartial and independent as it is supposed to be.

In theory, Cllr Lenny could now raise his concerns under the Constitution as an urgent item at the end of next Wednesday's meeting, but he would first have to obtain the consent of the Chair, who would inevitably reject any such request. And just to make sure, Mr James went to the trouble of removing urgent items from the meeting agenda a few years back.

If urgent items are not on the agenda, there can be no urgent items.

And finally....

An observant contributor to the comments in the previous post wondered if Cllr Lenny's motion ran the risk of being in contempt of court, who would apply to the High Court to have it consider whether the compromise proposal constituted contempt.

The answer to that one would be the chief executive himself. Surely he would not have instructed his Monitoring Officer to suggest to councillors that if they defied his wishes, he would take his own council to court? Would he?


Anonymous said...

Would not be surprised Cneifwr.

Ken Haylock said...

Given the history in Carmarthenshire and the import of the issues raised, just the rejection of this notice of motion alone should be the straw that breaks the camels back for Welsh Government & has them send the Commissioners in to have the drains up. There is situation no more emblematic of the state of Carmarthenshire's governance than counsellors being spuriously frustrated in their direct attempt to assert their authority over the council's out of control Chief Executive's attempts to vindictively render a resident of Carmarthenshire homeless and possibly personally enrich himself in the process, an opportunity unlawfully afforded to him by people who all seem to hold their positions by dint of his personal patronage, a decision also rubber stamped by the same unqualified person in the role of monitoring officer who also owes her position to the Chief Executive's patronage and who was complicit in spuriously rejecting said notice of motion...

Anybody who thinks anything about my preceding paragraph is acceptable behaviour is perhaps reading this post in some brutally corrupt banana republic somewhere, and longs for the kinder gentler kind of ruthless dictatorship seen in Carmarthenshire, but anybody else will be wondering how the hell any of this has been allowed to go on as long as it has, when even the most feeble attempt to democratically scrutinise the activities of 'the council' in the person of Mr James himself by elected councillors in Carmarthenshire is unceremoniously frustrated, effectively by Mr James himself...

Come on Welsh Assembly Government, prove you are fit to run a... err... drinking event in a brewery never mind devolved government. Only you can stop this, you have statutory powers _too_ stop this designed for just this kind of situation, and it is clear from just this one incident, never mind the last many years, that the democratically elected representatives of the people in Carmarthenshire can not exert any control the activities of 'the council' even when they want to. It is clearly time to send in an external commissioner to fulfil the role of monitoring officer at the bare minimum, and surely if you do not want to sweep the democratically elected councillors aside the least you can do is intervene to ensure that the relationship between the elected members and officers is such that officers cannot prevent councillors from proposing motions they disagree with or asking questions they do not want to answer.

If you want to fix the governance of Carmarthenshire without coming in and taking it over yourself, you could do a lot worse than using your powers to suspend all remuneration of councillors for the next 5 years, removing at a stroke the power of patronage from the hands of the Chief Executive...

Or you could carry on doing nothing as this multi-year multi-faceted scandal grows & grows...

Anonymous said...

" Cefin and I were also accused of showing 'extreme discourtesy' to the Chair by making the Press aware of our Notice of Motion before he had time to consider it." The slurs have started. I agree with you that the present Chair is being asked to do a job which is obviously way too far beyond his comfort zone.

Tessa said...

@anon 9 Dec 13:20

Not just too far beyond his comfort zone - the poor bloke's way out of his depth. As are most of the other councillors. But crucially, NOT ALL of them.

Elderly Neil. said...

Corrupt, Vindictive. Prison sentences have been given for less and that is where Mark James should be. We are governed by a ruthless despot. He would be entirely at home in the middle east. I have tempered my comment here on Facebook I shall be more specific.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how long it took Linda Legal to type all that out from Mark James' dictation

Anonymous said...

Shameful. This has become a very dangerous situation where Councillors voted in by the public are being dictated to, and fail to carry out the work they were elected to do as Councillors. This is an embarrassment
and someone must intervene, if Councillors cannot do so, then the Welsh Government MUST.

Anonymous said...

Mark James finds it impossible to simply respond. His responses always come with a bonus. He attacks. As in the case of the two councillors his rejection of the motion came with the added extra of an attack upon their integrity. When are the rest of these councillors going to finally realise this man had a serious problem and he needs to go.

Anonymous said...

A notice of motion becomes a document open to public scrutiny as soon as it is submitted, it does not become a public document only when the Chair has eventually got round to considering it. Therefore, there can be no foundation for the accusation of showing “extreme discourtesy”. Was it the Chair or Linda Rees Jones, who now seems to be acting as a proxy Chair, who made this accusation?

Surely, it is discourteous of the Chair not to reply himself and give the reasons why he is rejecting the motion, rather than via Linda Rees Jones. After all, the council’s constitution states that to be an effective Chair requires him to “Act as a symbol of the Council’s democratic authority”

As Sian Caiach has previously commented, in relation to the question she submitted, “Eryl was aware of the rejection but didn't really have a clue as to why he was asked to reject the question.” - a good indication of the status of democracy within CCC.

Anonymous said...

@Anon 9th Dec 13.20

It's not just slurs it's bullying tactics.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this is part of a masterplan being played out by councillors that have had a bellyful of this man who seems to have forgotten his role is that of an advisory capacity and answerable to them not the other way round.

It could be that the initial proposal was deliberately tabled knowing that it would be rejected whilst forcing james to reveal his true character. Thus paving the way for a no confidence vote and a means to rid the council of the cancer once and for all with the added bonus of not having to pay him any renumeration.

If the council are clever, this is what they will now do.

As someone above suggests, mark james has brought the council and the county into disrepute. Such behaviour does not sit well with government or other public bodies and it should be enough to encourage councillors to pursue such line of action.

Gone before Christmas? Oh yes please!

Anonymous said...

It should be very easy to find the validity of Linda Legal's contention that the consequence of putting forward the motion could be contempt of court.If she is wrong she should be dismissed.Can someone follow this through.

Patricia B said...

The role of Monitoring Officer as found on various council websites is quite an eye opener. Misconduct in Public Office is one of her main roles to investigate, holding officers to account!. LRJ is fully aware of the misconduct issues in my case - which leaves ever more questions to be answered by CCC and indeed the Welsh Assembly.

Anonymous said...

How can it be the Chief Executive's "private and personal" affairs if he's been publicly funded
and for what reason would it constitute contempt of court?

Anonymous said...

Mark James seems to have forgotten that he was the first one to make matters very public indeed when he posted his views on Madaxeman's blog. He is a man full of contradictory opinions and statements - saying things that suit the occasion.

Anonymous said...

Councillors should have taken him to task over his comments on the blog. The role of CE should be above that kind of behaviour and he should never have stooped so low as to get involved.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't come over clearly enough that overtures were made to Mark James to come to some arrangement so avoiding court action.He refused because he is vindictive and it is not in his nature to even try to be concilitory.He wanted total revenge.The way he is treating two respected councillors at present is proof of his despotism and total disregard for democracy.

Anonymous said...

Mark James brings the Council, Carmarthenshire and the hard working staff of the Council into disrepute. It is about time the Welsh Government and hopefully the people of Carmarthenshire removed this Christian,moral gentleman. It's important that all these issues are fully aired during the forthcoming elections.