FOLLOWING the extraordinary meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council last Friday, council leader Jamie Adams was forthright in his support for under fire chief executive Bryn Parry-Jones.
In an interview with Western Telegraph chief reporter Katy Woodhouse, Cllr Adams went through the various issues which have been raised since the Wales Audit Office declared the pension arrangements of senior council officials, including Mr Parry-Jones, to be unlawful.
Cllr Adams said: “There’s no doubt that strong political leadership in this council and strong professional leadership have been the back bone of how we have ensured good value for money for the tax payers of Pembrokeshire and central to that in a professional capacity is the chief executive."
Cllr Adams added that it did not matter what someone thought about an individual officer they were still an employee and had rights.
"Being a member of senior staff I think that places people in a higher public role and therefore there will be more attraction, and they do attract more comments and views in terms of council's performance.
"I took over as leader less than two years ago and in that time we've been able to demonstrate a very clear move to greater accountability, far more transparency, nobody can tell me that scrutiny arrangements are less robust than any other council in Wales."
He also reiterated the view that the legal advice received by the authority regarding pension payments was not required by members prior to the meeting discussing the Wales Audit Office report declaring the scheme 'unlawful'.
Cllr Adams said that because it pertained to another authority as well as Pembrokeshire County Council it could not be made freely available but it had been agreed that it would be shared once redacted.
"It can be redacted at cost, members are saying what about the cost and now saying we want everything.
“We have come to a position today with the Wales Audit Office report that we affectively accept their recommendations.
“That being the case now that legal advice can be shared by the wider group. Prior to today would have been risky in terms of council legal position.
"I’m confident we can get to a position where the auditor and ourselves can move forward by drafting something that the audit office can look at so we don’t end up in this position two years after the event.
"When you wrote a report in the Western Telegraph in January 2012, it was that report that raised the issue in terms of the audit office becoming aware of it. They came to us at that time an asked about it and we didn’t hear anymore.
"There's no huge gulf between ourselves and the audit office. I have told members what some of the flaws have been - some of the information heard in private sessions was capable of being heard in public session - and we held today's session entirely in public. We are not afraid to be scrutinised in public.
"The pension scheme is in suspension, the decision rescinded. We are employers of the 33 people in the senior staff cohort and have to recognise they have employment rights and will have to consider that as we go forward."
Cllr Adams was also clear that those given advice on whether they should remain in the chamber by counsel after being accused of predetermining their position prior to discussion of a notice of motion calling for the suspension of the chief executive were responsible for their own decisions.
That the councillors surveyed by local newspapers were asked 'should the chief executive resign' not be suspended, and was carried before the notice had been put forward, was not a consideration.
Cllr Adams added that there were four councillors who had expressed a view in support of Mr Parry-Jones which he had felt put them in a similar position to those picked out by Tim Kerr QC who had all expressed views against him and they too had left the chamber.
"We knew we would have to consider the report. If anything it's proven that councillors need to keep their own counsel and not be hoodwinked into giving comments.
"They weren't asked to leave, they took it upon themselves to leave because they had prejudiced their own position.
"It has the potential to undermine any decision we take and the potential to place a member at the door of the ombudsman should a complaint be made."
Cllr Adams said that the legal difference of opinion related to the declaration of officer interests and whether they can take part in decision making meetings or not.
Referring to the presence of the chief executive when the pension arrangements were agreed Cllr Adams said: "Yes, a the meeting of course he had an interest, which we all knew, but we are not shrinking violets. We are not sort of pushed around by the chief executive.
"We have very robust discussions."
Another criticism made clearly at the pension meeting was the lack of detailed information in the minutes of that meeting.
Cllr Adams said that more detailed minutes are produced at all meetings now and the officers present recorded. He also emphasised the fact that no senior officers had been present at Friday's meeting, showing that lessons had been learnt.
When asked if the 'lawful' way the auditor felt pension arrangements could have been made would include not having someone who could benefit at the decision making meeting Cllr Adams said: "Most definitely."
He hoped that those watching the debate would see that the report was discussed fully and that there was enough information available for an informed decision to be taken.
He added that the auditor had agreed that was the case.
"It must be very confusing at times, it must seem a little bit argy bargy and not particularly well structured but we as members have to take responsibility for that. Has that impacted on our ability to get to a conclusion?
"There has to be an agreement in terms of the outcome. Nobody voted against it. A few members abstained, but the democratic body came to decision that it agreed with the auditor's recommendations."