Wednesday 20 December 2017

Festive thoughts

Chestnuts roasting by an open fire, peace on earth and goodwill to man (and woman), even Auntie Beryl and Mrs Bucket next door, or contemplating the living hell that is Tesco in Cardigan when you make a last minute dash for that "essential" jar of stem ginger. Yes, it's that time of year again when most of us will be thinking Christmas-related thoughts.

Not so if you are the chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, it would seem. In what is turning into something of an annual tradition, Mr James appears to be contemplating another blitzkrieg of festive litigation and threats of legal action.

This time last year he was putting the final touches to what he clearly hoped would be his final offensive against Jacqui Thompson, with a court case to have her and her family turfed out of their home, with a simultaneous battery of complaints to Dyfed Powys Police. Not content with that, he threw his toys out of the pram when two councillors dared to suggest a compromise, and launched a formal complaint of breach of the code of conduct against a third.

It was a hectic December.

The Ombudsman's wheels grind exceedingly slow, however, and it is understood that the "investigation" of alleged lèse-majesté by former councillor Sian Caiach is still going on.

To what must have been the great man's intense frustration, the legal Armageddon that he had so carefully planned was about as successful as Theresa May's strong and stable election campaign.

As Jail Hill watchers know, the chief executive does not give in that easily, and so it came as no surprise to hear the other day that Mrs Angry, the Finchley housewife, blogging superstar and nemesis of Tory councillors in Barnet, had spotted an unusual amount of interest in some of her old back numbers dealing with the Jacqui Thompson case emanating from an IP address belonging to Carmarthenshire County Council.

It is perfectly normal to see council IP addresses, no doubt belonging to the press and PR departments, monitoring recent stuff on the blogs, although in this age of austerity and with frontline services being cut, employing people to monitor naughty bloggers and wayward journalists is one service most of us could survive without.

However, trawling through blog archives for stories relating to court cases is more likely to be a task allocated to someone in County Hall's notorious "cavalier at best, incompetent at worst" legal department, to quote eminent lawyer Sir David Lewis.

Whether or not Mr James is planning a new spring legal offensive is something we will no doubt find out in due course, but in the meantime we can all sleep soundly in the knowledge that, in the view of the Wales Audit Office, there is nothing wrong with council resources being used in pursuit of a legal action which the council is adamant is an entirely private matter between Mr James and Mrs Thompson.

Meanwhile Mr James has been busy issuing threats of court action against Mrs Trisha Breckman who is seeking justice for the appalling treatment she has suffered at the hands of the council over the last 15 years.

As readers will recall, the essence of that case is that the council failed in its duty to enforce the law and planning regulations against her troublesome neighbour, Mr Andrew Thomas.

One of the many issues involved in the latest flare-up is what action was taken to ensure that an area of hardstanding illegally constructed by Mr Thomas on part of a Special Area of Conservation and SSSI was actually removed as required by the enforcement notice.

After Mr Thomas failed to comply with the notice, a court case ensued but was dropped no sooner than it had started, with council officers telling the court that the notice had since been complied with.

Given Mr Thomas's immensely long track record of contempt for the planning system, you would think the council would have sent someone round to check that the hardstanding really had been removed, but it seems not. Instead, the council's Head of Law and Monitoring Officer wrote that an "aerial photograph" from 2013 showed that it had been removed.

Readers can decide for themselves whether the photograph was taken by council officers in a municipal Cessna or was it, as we non-lawyers would call it, "Google Earth" showing the illegal hardstanding with a lot of soil and rock dumped on top?

The matter of the hardstanding is only one in a very long line of bizarre statements made by senior council officers in relation to Mr Thomas's activities at Maesybont, including a former head of planning's failure to notice that the "farm" was in fact a lorry depot, and his claim that a scrapped fire engine dumped in a field was in fact a pressure washer.

And so, dear reader, we leave 2017 pretty much as we started it.

Nadolig llawen. Merry Christmas.


Mrs B said...

You never disappoint and always on top of it all. Happy Christmas to you and yours.

Anonymous said...

We can only hope that in 2018 anyone with a shred of moral backbone in Carmarthen Council and in the Senned will finally call for a full and INDEPENDENT enquiry into the totally unacceptable behaviour of some of the senior officers at Carmarthen. For far too long this CEO led Council has made the rules up as it suits it's own agenda. It has acted in a totally undemocratic way in so many areas. Any criticism is met with threats of litigation ( how many more cases will be funded by the very people that will be pursued through the courts?)
The cases of Trisha Breckman and Jacqui Thompson are only two of many that require full investigation. Codes of Conduct mean little to some of Carmarthen Senior officers. They seem to forget that they are servents of the public and as such are responsible to them for actions and decisions that they undertake.
The executive board members in Carmarthen are only too aware of the situation and by their inaction have to be seen to be complicit and indeed to encourage this unacceptable behaviour calls into question if their positions are tenable.
Let us hope that in 2018 there will be real changes and that public faith in the Council can be restored to an institution that is seen to act in a transparent and accountable manner.

towy71 said...

anon 20:58 has it right in his penultimate paragraph
"The executive board members in Carmarthen are only too aware of the situation and by their inaction have to be seen to be complicit and indeed to encourage this unacceptable behaviour calls into question if their positions are tenable. "
I voted for the Plaid candidate in the county elections and she won, now I'm beginning to wonder if I did the right thing??

Anonymous said...

Are ANY of the present lot of gutless wonders that call themselves "county councillors" and who only seem interested in lining their pockets with OUR money in the form of so-called expenses and allowances (all far, far too generous - as is the salary of ALL senior officers)

Anonymous said...

Yes being a Plaid supporter i am totally disgusted at their lack of spine in tackling Mr James and the big issues that need tackling in Carmarthenshire - corruption within the council, waste of money and the need to take a good hard look at teh LDP and the monstrous haousing estates being built over the county as well as the filing up of social housing and oAP flats which are supposed to houes local people by criminals and scum transported here from Engish local authorites.. but they don't seem to be interestd