west*wales*news*review

West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

Frayed Tempers as Council Struggles to Ignore Elephant in Chamber

Carmarthenshire County Council’s Acting Head of Administration and Law, Linda Rees Jones, verbally blasted Councillor Sian Caiach during yesterday’s ‘routine’ council meeting. Instead of supporting his fellow councillor, chairman Terry Davies moved swiftly to stop Cllr Caiach asking Ms Rees Jones to justify her remarks.

Cllr Caiach (People First, Hengoed) has guts. She stands up to what I see, on the webcast screen, as attempts to intimidate her. She asks awkward questions, questions which, conveniently for the Executive Board and senior officers, are deemed ‘not on the agenda’ (and thus inadmissible).

In truth, not much seems admissible. Considering the elephant in the council chamber, the worrying reports from the Wales Audit Office citing unlawful payments to the chief executive, Mr Mark James, and the launching of a police investigation to be handled by Gloucestershire Constabulary, the refusal of council chair Cllr Terry Davies (Labour, Gorslas) to allow questions about the unlawful deals – direct salary payments instead of employers’ pension contributions, and an indemnity for a libel counter-claim against blogger Jacqui Thompson —  strikes me as copying not an elephant but an ostrich, head deep in the sand. Cllr Caiach wanted to ask about the legal position of councillors who approved the unlawful deals, which seems a sensible question.

She got a counter-blast from Linda Rees Jones, who said that Cllr Caiach was “obviously trying to introduce the issue of the indemnity by the back door”.  Ms Rees Jones added in a tone of exasperation that a report she had prepared for the Executive Board had nothing to do with the funding of the counter-claim but was about where the litigation currently stands. She had no intention of addressing the case law quoted by Cllr Caiach because it was “irrelevant to the item on the agenda”. Then came the counter-attack.

“What I would say is I am very surprised that having mentioned the code of conduct for members, Cllr Caiach has not turned her own mind to her own position in the matter considering she was a witness for Mrs Thompson in the litigation.”

At this, Cllr Caiach asked “Could you tell me how the code of conduct applies to me in this case?” But Cllr Davies – who complained “you keep on and on about the same thing” — had already moved to protect Ms Rees Jones from having to reply.

According to Cllr Davies, a special meeting planned for February 27th will be the time and place for the matter of the unlawful payments to be aired. Hopefully that meeting will not be a stage-managed presentation. In fact, yesterday a presentation by the Housing Department took up almost an hour of the three hours allocated. Especially at this critical point, are slides about the state of council housing the best use of that time? Fifteen minutes before 1pm, with a chunk of the agenda outstanding, and the majority content to finish at 1pm, the chairman sped through the remaining items like the hurricane that was beginning to blow outside.

There has to be order and courtesy in council meetings, but the impression from yesterday was of discourtesy to Cllr Caiach, who is persistent on behalf of electors, but always polite. As for order, at times this seemed the sort of ‘order’ of which David Copperfield’s step-father, the alarming, not-so-charming Mr Murdstone, would thoroughly approve.

Pat Dodd Racher

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