7 May 2009

And the winner is ................. Tyranny!

Sometimes something happens to change your view of a subject or a person. And I've begun to suspect that I may have been missing the point a) about Somerton's Town Council and b) about the naming and shaming of the Tin Dunny.

I'll deal with the naming and shaming thing first. I now realise that for Somerton's Town Council to call it the 'Edgar Hall' is really quite appropriate because it has nothing to do with Somerton, other than consuming Somerton's money. I was pretty steamed when they passed the motion to name it 'Edgar Hall' because, on the surface, I felt that this was meant to be Somerton's Community Hall. But after calmer consideration it becomes apparent that the name, whilst offensive in one way, was quite appropriate in the wider context.

The community was never involved with the building and were quite deliberately excluded from any involvement until the deal was done. The building was simply a mechanism to allow the land at Etsome Terrace to be sold into the control of developers. As such, the building, other than its dependence upon public funding and the assets of the community, has nothing whatsoever to do with Somerton's community. Having thought about it, it would have been a greater offence to name it as if it was something to do with Somerton.

My second realisation is far more complicated and it relates to Somerton's Town Council and its councillors. For a long time I have believed that Somerton's councillors must know what they are doing. I couldn't imagine that any group of people would act as irresponsibly as Somerton's Councillors do, without fully understanding their responsibilities and the consequences of their actions. Equally, I thought that anyone putting themselves forward as a candidate would have some idea of what the the job entailed before they applied. But the meeting of the 14th April changed that view.

At the meeting, Cllr Jerry Rees was asking questions about the thumbnail 2008/9 budget for Somerton which was published in the SSDC booklet, 'Explaining Your Council Tax Bill', also titled 'Your guide to Council Tax' and is available online here. It was clear from Cllr Rees' questions that he had never been involved with any budgeting discussions so he simply didn't understand the purpose of that thumbnail budget. I suspect that he is similarly unaware of the same information which was published a year earlier, in December of 2007. Had he seen that information he might have realised that the decision to buy the Tin Dunny had been taken behind the Council's back and well in advance of the Town Council's 'Press Release' of September 2008.

So, if Cllr Rees' lack of knowledge, insight or experience were to be repeated throughout the body of Councillors, my perception of the Town Council would have to be revised. Now I have to consider the possibility that most of Somerton's Town Councillors, whilst good-willed, are broadly unaware of their responsibilities and the consequences of their actions.

But there is another facet to the regulation of Somerton Town Council and that is what I would describe as the tyrannical attitude towards other councillors that is adopted by Cllr Canvin and supported, quite shamefully, by Cllr Keenan.

On April 14th, Cllr Ian Neale attempted to make a point during the 'discussion' of the official name for the Tin Dunny. Now, the fact is that I've rarely agreed with Cllr Neale but this time I felt his point was quite reasonable and Cllr Canvin clearly didn't agree and made that perfectly clear. I've already referred to Cllr Canvin's ill-tempered ranting and I won't belabour the point but my own expectation of a Town Council is that it would be a place for reasoned and calm debate leading to considered decision making. By that definition, Somerton's Town Council falls far short of those expectations and Cllr Canvin's behaviour is clearly influential in this situation.

A Town Council is, in the ideal world, meant to embrace the fullest range of views and opinions. The constituent members of the Town Council are meant to reflect the views of the community who they stand to represent. However, if you have one character who is bullying and domineering then you don't have a democratic process. What you have is a tyrant's dictat.

Such a situation wouldn't be quite so bad if meetings were regulated with decency, impartiality and respect for all and it is the responsibility of the Chair to ensure that regulation. The Chair is not there to be partial but, going by events of 14th April 2009, the message hasn't got through to Cllr Keenan. He seemed more concerned to move towards approval of Cllr Canvin's chosen name for the Dunny that to indulge in any form of debate.

So, I now start to wonder. How would I feel if I was exposed to the Cllr Canvin's ill temper on a fortnightly basis? Not very good. How would I feel if I knew that the Chair was going to fold up his tent at the slightest sign of Cllr Canvin getting into a strop? Again, not too good. So, here I am, reconsidering the members of Somerton's Town Council and, in part, feeling sorry for them. I wouldn't like to be in their shoes, waiting for Cllr Canvin to blow a fuse and spew his bile in my direction.

No, Somerton Town Council is looking more and more like a Tyranny and I'm beginning to feel sorry for its victims.

Till next time, may your God go with you.