Special Western Telegraph comment: A mockery of democracy
FARCICAL, shambolic, embarrassing; take your pick.
Each accurately describes the extraordinary meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council on Friday.
In scenes that would have been hilarious had the subject matter not been so serious, democratically elected councillors – voted in by you and me – were systematically and cynically denied the opportunity to represent their constituents.
Democracy was stopped in its tracks. And it stunk to high heaven.
Friday was the first opportunity for members to discuss the hugely controversial issue of the pension arrangements of well-paid senior council officers, including the chief executive, Bryn Parry-Jones.
The background has been well covered but suffice to say that this is an issue that has sparked furious reaction from members of the public right across Pembrokeshire and deserved to be debated in full, in public.
As councillors came to discuss a perfectly reasonable notice of motion– the suspension of the chief executive while investigations continue (although surely that should have been a given anyway considering the ongoing potentially criminal investigation) – the curtain went up and the stage was set.
Up shot Cllr Keith Lewis (Crymych, Independent Plus) to declare that he had dared to give his opinion to a local newspaper when asked whether Mr Parry-Jones should resign.
Given the dangers of ‘predetermination’ potentially landing members in front of the Ombudsman, Cllr Lewis said he thought he should withdraw from the chamber, while questioning aloud whether other members should follow suit.
It could not have been more staged if the main character was still carrying his script.
The QC hired by the council to defend its actions in the pension pay supplement scandal, Tim Kerr, then took the meeting into what appeared to be the plot of a Cold War thriller.
An envelope, addressed to Mr Kerr, had been left in the back of a council car that picked him up from a train station.
That envelope contained press cuttings of comments made to the local press about the chief executive’s position.
After questioning it was eventually established that the envelope had been left by the council’s monitoring officer, Laurence Harding, although he would not say who had handed him the press cuttings in the first place.
Mr Kerr then produced a list of 10 councillors who he believed could be in danger of having predetermined the issue.
Strangely, all had given the opinion that the chief executive should stand down.
But with a top QC offering such advice, the game was up. Opposition members had little choice but to withdraw and there was no vote.
It was a set-up from start to finish. It was dirty politics of the highest order and it prevented the people of Pembrokeshire’s voice being heard.
Those members involved should hang their heads in absolute shame.
However, the way the debate was ambushed has just added fuel to the fire. The story has grown.
It was also a massive own goal.
The Welsh Government was watching, of that you can be sure. Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire are already referred to as the ‘wild west’ in Cardiff Bay.
Perhaps it is time that some new sheriffs rode into town and took charge.
Please take the time to watch the archived debate online: www.pembrokeshire.public-i.tv/core