Called into County Hall for Part two of the AGM today. Usual unwelcoming procedure, the guards were late so the meeting had got underway when all four members of the public got to the gallery. Sadly there wasn't an army of newly outraged councillors protesting at the way their visiting constituents are treated. At the last meeting the translating equipment in the public gallery didn't work, this time the councillors microphones failed and the only translation for the public was from the great and good on the podium, who's mikes did work but it was then difficult to hear the whispery translator over the booming voice of the Chair. Perhaps it had something to do with the extensive refurbishment of County Hall (at unknown cost), hopefully it hasn't interfered with the fire alarm system too. While I remember, perhaps a few copies of the agenda could be provided for the public? It would be common courtesy to at least offer...engaging the public and all that? Ha what a joke.
Anyway, on to the meeting which was, in a nutshell, further procedural waffle about who had what, and the extra cash that went with it. The new Chair Cllr Sian Thomas, gave a little speech in the manner of a headmistress, years of teaching coming into it's own. She told the class that the first names she would learn would be those of the 'naughty ones', so woe betide anyone who speaks out of turn. She then had a Gerald Ford moment giving class something ethical to ponder; 'not the promises we make today but the promises we keep tomorrow' she quoted. Unfortunately she had to correct herself by saying she meant promises to constituents and not, as she had originally said, promises to councillors. Oops.
To be honest, promises to constituents seemed to be the last thing on most minds as the spoils were carved up. The sweetie sharing was clearly being taken literally and several times during the meeting sweets were passed round, but only within each group, there was no coalition sweetie sharing...it's rather a pity they hadn't supplied the public, or me anyway, with popcorn...
Next up was the new Leader Kevin Madge who rambled on with the report on his new cabinet, everyone's attention was beginning to waver, (including the Chair and the Chief Executive who began writing notes to each other) mainly because everyone had read the details in the newspaper last week, much to the annoyance of one councillor who pointed out that such information had to be approved by full council before being issued as fact, Cllr Madge could muster no more than a mumbling apology. Hmm, leaks eh.
The seating arrangement was interesting with the Labour and Independent ruling Groups sitting opposite each other and with Plaid and the couple of unaffiliated councillors in between, things didn't look exactly harmonious.
Next was the approval of the allowances and expenses. According to the chief Executive the members had "no option" other than to accept the rates laid down by the snappily titled Independent Remuneration Panel Wales. I can't quite understand how, if that is the case, that the Leader of Powys Council (Powys is in the same IRWP 'band' as Carmarthenshire) accepted a bit less than the amount recommended, as did his cabinet, £34,500 for the Leader and £24,000 for each cabinet member rather than £47,500 and £28,780 respectively for Cllr Madge and crew. Clearly Carmarthenshire's Executive don't believe in tightening their belts (even by one notch) as an example to the hard pressed constituents, already burdened by paying for the various ongoing follies such as the bowling alley, to name but one. Priorities, priorities.
Mr James told them that there were only a couple of points up for debate, one of which was whether or not to pay fuel expenses to councillors going about council business within the county (rather than just back and for County Hall), Cllr Pam Palmer (who no longer sits by dear Meryl) rose to her feet to suggest that it might be 'open to abuse' and she was very aware that those pesky constituents (the word pesky was implied, not said, I add) kept a close eye on councillors expenses. Some of us do Pam, some of us do. She also thought it may require extra employees, which is nonsense, perhaps she's unaware that they are already employing an extra four paralegals for six months to bolster the strength of that most important of council departments, the legal squad.
The report on the political make up of the committees was next with the unaffiliated councillors stating that they had been left out of the 'dealings', then our Pam got up to moan that her members were disappointed too and some of them were only now speaking to her - and, not one to be left out, Leader Madge joined in with more of the same. I detect discontent, as did the Plaid Leader Peter Hughes Griffiths who jumped up to say he was 'willing to talk'. Anyway, the headmistress waded in at this point to remind the unaffiliated that there were 'forms available' if they wanted to join a party..... Confusion ensued as John Jenkins (unaffiliated) proposed that his nomination was deferred but the Chief Executive was having none of this warning it could effect the political balance and they'd be back to square one. Cllr Jenkins eventually withdrew his amendment. I think he'll be heading for the Chair's naughty step. It seems that outspoken and 'troublesome' councillors will no more be tolerated in this Administration than the last.
Next up was the handing out of Chairs and Vice Chairs. Plaid got a few Scrutiny seats. There were then numerous recorded votes for the (mainly) Vice Chairs and other committees. All became a bit confusing for us poor mortals in the public gallery. Out of the 74 councillors, nine have the surname Davies, another nine are Thomases, there are five Evanses, five Joneses and four called Williams. As the Chair didn't even give the names of those nominated unopposed (the public weren't supplied, as the press and the councillors were, with a handy list of nominees) and along with the failing translating equipment, dud microphones etc it was a bit difficult to decipher. The gist became clear as the Plaid councillors who were nominated were defeated one by one. I noticed that our local 'independents' Cllrs Theophilus and Jackson voted for Labour/Independent group members unfailingly. They were rewarded however as the favour was returned and Theophilus regained the quasi-judicial Chair of the Licensing Committee (living in a tiny village in rural north Carmarthenshire should stand him in good stead for tackling the difficult issues of extended drinking hours in the urban areas) and Jackson got Vice-Chair of, I think, Environment. This all went on for some time; every time a Member had to vote for him or herself there was a ripple of amusement, rather like small children laughing at the same joke over and over again.
The meeting concluded with the handing out of large brown envelopes by the Head of Democratic Services, I presumed they contained the lists of committee members, I have no idea. Could have chosen a different colour though. The Chamber emptied, with the squabbling reduced to quietly seething discontent.
The next full council meeting is on the 13th June, why don't you pop along to see our wonderful council in action.