20 May 2009

'Nothing' is such a big word.

Dateline May 12th 2009
Location - The Tin Dunny
Event - meeting of Somerton Town Council

07:30pm and the meeting got underway with apologies and went straight into Public Questions and, at that point, left the orbit of reasonable, decent behaviour, travelling at full speed to the planet ill-temper.

A brave member of the public, I believe his name is Barry Markham, asked a question of the Council regarding progress on resolving the condition of the public loos on the playing fields at Gassons Lane. To a certain extent, Barry answered his own question in his pre-amble but I assume that he wanted to hear the 'N' word stated by the Council. The core of his enquiry was to find out what the Council had done about the poor condition of the loos and the absence of disabled facilities.

Cllr Keenan weaseled out of the corner by stating that the Council had, "so far achieved very little." and so the question, "What have you done?" was repeated. Cllr Keenan started to get tetchy and replied, "Are you listening?" and Mr Markam repeated the question whereupon the Cllr Keenan decided that attack was the best form of defence and proceeded to indulge in a very personal attack on Mr Markham. What Cllr Keenan seemed unable to grasp was the simple fact that if, in answer to the question, he had simply said, "Nothing.", then the matter would have ended there and then. But 'Nothing' would clearly have choked him so he decided to draw attention to the issue by making a completely unwarranted and personal attack on a member of the public who is also a ratepayer.

It would be a waste of your time, and mine, for me to offer a blow by blow account of the manner in which Mr Markham's questions were or were not dealt with by the Town Council generally, and by Cllr Keenan in particular. Suffice it to say that the matter took up over half an hour and showed Somerton Town Council at its unprofessional, bitchy, disorganised, ill-tempered and ill-regulated worst. Cllr Keenan's behaviour was exactly the reverse of what could reasonably be expected from the Chair of a well run Council. It underscored my own view that the Chair and Vice-Chair, Cllrs Keenan & Canvin, don't want to hear any views other than their own. As I've said before, this isn't democracy, this is tyranny.

But, to return to the meeting, this debate was then joined by other Councillors and it descended into a completely ridiculous farce. When the dust had settled what emerged from the confusion was that the mini-Dunny project for the playing fields (estimated cost at least £175,000!) has sunk without a trace and the Council is now costing the use of Portaloos. Also under consideration was a more modest piece of maintenance work on the existing loos at the playing fields and costing around £2,000. But the constant chorus from Messers Keenan & Canvin was "we don't have any money". This struck me as funny given the fact that this group of councillors were sitting in a very fine meeting room in the Tin Dunny which has, so far, swallowed £1.3million. And now they can't find £2,000. How the mighty are fallen.

In the latter part of this 'debate', Cllr Canvin threw a bit of a strop at Cllr Rees, seemingly because Cllr Rees was seeking to have some maintenance work done on the loos which, one assumes, Cllr Canvin thinks only he, Cllr Canvin, can undertake. To describe this behaviour as crass and childish simply doesn't get to the core of it.

Around 08:06 we had a discussion about poor street lighting near an address in West End. Cllr Harrison explained that the matter had been the subject of a public consultation and the result had been a decision to take no action. During the ensuing discussion Cllr Canvin displayed his belief in local democracy by advising Cllr Harrison, "Why do you need neighbourhood support? If you think its needed - do it!". It did occur to me that Cllr Canvin's attitude was exactly why we've ended up with the Tin Dunny!

08:14 and we had Declarations of Interest (none) followed by Approval of Minutes (rubber stamp) and Matters Arising where we heard that £3,000pa will be saved by changing insurance provider from Allianz to Aviva. I hope that this insurance includes public liability covering helicopters landing in the car park.

08:22 and planning led up to 08:25 and committee reports which came and went with few highlights other than Cllr Webber's report about an abandoned car. Cllr Canvin chipped in with a detailed explanation of the proper procedure to be followed before removing such vehicles. Its nice to know that Cllr Canvin is so well informed about such matters.

08:59 and the subject of the future administration of the Parish Rooms was discussed. The meeting was informed that the lease with the Church had fallen through because the Charity Commissioners had nixed the deal. Cllr Canvin summed up the feelings of the Council when he intoned, "Had that deal gone through we'd have shot ourselves in the foot. That hall needs to work with this one.". (Chorus of approval in the background.)

Isn't it amazing how people change their positions. I seem to remember that, earlier this year, the Council were 'almost a majority' in voting to lease the Parish Rooms to the Church. But, now, the failure of this lease raises a number of interesting possibilities. Did the Charity Commissioners nix the deal or is that a cover? You'd have thought that the Town Council would have done their due diligence and made sure that they were actually able to offer the lease. So maybe the Charity Commissioners did nix the deal or maybe the Church backed out or maybe Somerton Town Council backed out. Whatever may be the truth of the matter, the Town Council is now short of £155k which raises the interesting question of how the Town Council will buy the curtains for the Dunny. But there is another possibility. Where would the Town Council go if they were to sell the Dunny? Maybe the Town Council are preparing for the move back to the Parish Rooms when "unforseen events" force the sale of the unloved 'Edgar Haul'.

09:11pm and it was time for the Chair's report. I expected a loud bang but what we got was a proposal that the Town Council fund a vehicle for Somerton's 'First Responders'. This idea sounded like a PR effort, the sort of suggestion that any second rate politician might come up with to make themselves look better. A bit like one of our 'invisible mortgage' MPs suggesting that everyone in the country is given £100. And the idea is a tad idiotic given the distinct possibility that the Town Council is skint after the Tin Dunny sploodgefest.

Cllr Neale surprised me once again by asking just how much this brilliant idea was going to cost and, obviously, the Chair was clueless. Somebody suggested £10,000 and someone else suggested £20,000 after being fitted out. Given the fact that the Town Council seems unable to find £2,000 to maintain the loos on the playing fields, maybe someone should advise the Chair to look after the pennies, even if they aren't his.

And so yet another inglorious chapter in Somerton Town Council's history came to an end and I was glad to escape. I find these meetings so terribly depressing when I see the extent to which this Council excludes the community. How can they complain about the lack of community involvement when they abuse members of the public with such apparent ease? And the problem, like family abuse, is that this behaviour is self-perpetuating. New members of the Council experience the behaviour and this forms their model of what they might expect and how they, in their turn, should behave. So the cycle of abuse continues, just as it does within families. No wonder the community stays away. Its much safer.

Till next time, may your God go with you.