I was told of a comical turn in PCC’s latest debacle last week evoking images of drawers and filing cabinets being rooted through in desperation.
To sum it up, it seems that Dai Boswell, elected councillor in 2017, has failed to attend the legal minimum number of council meetings to keep his seat.
When a councillor is timed-out like this, in a second separate step councils are legally required to then declare the seat vacant triggering a by-election.
PCC has delegated this task to its chief executive who is refusing to, initially on grounds suggested by the authority’s monitoring officer.
This is the idea that Mr. Boswell complied with the six-month attendance rule because, whilst he has failed to attend any meetings for six months, he has attended informal seminars.
Since then the Association of Labour Councillors has threatened all sorts of legal action in two strong letters from London lawyers.
Sources say the whole situation led to a frantic effort last week, scrabbling around County Hall in the hope of unearthing minutes and other files relating to the events Mr. Boswell attended.
It’s not the first time minutes have caused much head-scratching at County Hall – nor sparked a frenzied pursuit!
In 2014 it was exposed that the authority’s European manager, Gwyn Evans, fiddled with the minutes of grant panel meetings.
They had been the authoritative record of formal meetings recommending awards of cash which are subject to long-running fraud inquiries by police.
Mr. Evans tampered with the minutes in-between the time they were requested by Cllr. Mike Stoddart and given to him.
His raft of changes added extra detail and entirely new elements in a bid to make the grant-awarding panel’s deliberations look more thorough.
Little did he realise this would help propel the most famous chapter in the authority’s history, from which recent events suggest it’s never really recovered.
Former chief executive Bryn Parry-Jones hit the roof when the Pembrokeshire Herald exclusively unmasked Mr. Evans as the ‘minutes meddler.’
The Herald’s coverage created holy hell – so much that Bryn convened an emergency early morning confrontation in his office, commanding only the few who knew Mr. Evans was the guilty party.
BP-J was deeply insulted on a personal level as the Kremlin on Cleddau had tried in vain to keep Evans’ name secret and all attendees were, he thought, among his most trusted.
Bryn’s deep level of paranoia saw him make outrageous threats to engage a private dick to finger the guilty party if he didn’t own up to the leak there and then.
The childlike dressing-down was all too much for audit committee lay chairman John Evans MBE, who resigned because of the incident.
I exclusively revealed Bryn’s ‘molehunt’ inquisition on this blog, including a copy of Mr. Evans’ blistering resignation letter which was supplied to me on request, through gritted teeth, by Bryn himself!
More news of the CEO’s conduct came a week later as two ruling group councillors confided to the Herald that Mr. Parry-Jones rebuked them in a potty-mouthed tirade after they’d voted in support of my motion asking him to repay illegal cash sums he’d trousered.
That same day, Bryn was placed on gardening leave from which he never returned.
The rest is (very costly) history.
Talking of high expense, the council’s external legal advice on Pembroke’s St. Mary North seat has now been released to councillors on the basis of confidentiality.
It’s included in secret papers within the agenda for Thursday’s full council meeting along with a most bizarre report from the monitoring officer.
So whilst we’re allowed to see it, the paying public are – at this stage at least – kept in the dark.
That could all change at the meeting if elected councillors overturn the recommendation of unelected officers.
Councillors will first have to debate and then vote on whether the public interest outweighs the officers’ recommendation that the public and press should be turfed out.
What looks to be the council’s defence, if it all heads to court, employs some imaginative reasoning.
I intend to say why during the meeting, suffice to say neither of the two arguments is well supported by contemporaneous documentary evidence – at best it’s contradictory – whilst the second conclusion seems flawed to this layperson!
What I can say is that my opinion remains and, even with great latitude, they’ll be gambling a lot on some fancy logic – not dreamt up in-house but by the expensive QC after the six months were up – to argue that Pembroke St. Mary North has not fallen vacant.
The same QC has provided two sets of advice dated 14th February (six pages) and, following the provision of further information by council officers, a second on 1st March (nine pages.)
It remains to be seen if this barrister has been asked to attend the meeting like Tim Kerr QC at the time of the BP-J pay-off, who was trained down from London, put up at a plush hotel and chauffered in the chairman’s limo.
On entering the civic vehicle Kerr (pronounced car) was met with a brown envelope carefully-placed on the back seat by the then monitoring officer, Laurence Harding.
No doubt emboldened by its costly external legal opinion, following threats of legal action County Hall has still not backed down from what remains a sticky situation.
One councillor’s theory, with reference to the popular 90s Bond spoof Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, says this could be because a u-turn from such a tight spot is physically impossible.
This is the scene in the comedy Brit spy flick where the title character and his saucy love interest, the ever-fragrant secret agent Vanessa Kensington, get their electric cart stuck down a narrow alley.
The clip also features the duo’s nemesis, Doctor Evil, whose “…let us repair to the main chamber…” line is unlikely to go unnoticed by Pembrokeshire’s council-watchers!