8 June 2009

Who can you trust?

Its been a couple of weeks since I received the Town Clerk's letter where he sought to lash up some sort of pathetic justification for Somerton Town Council hiding their shameful secrets away from public scrutiny. In that letter, the Town Clerk touched on the subject of 'trust' and, whilst up till that time I had sought to view the Town Clerk as a neutral individual in matters involving the Town Council, that is now a view under revision.

Consideration of the Town Clerk's position caused me to look at various on-line job descriptions for the position of 'Town Clerk' and these make interesting reading. (Look at examples here, here and here.) What struck me most forcibly is that the Town Clerk is the Responsible Financial Officer of the Council and, as such, responsible for the administration of the Council's resources (financial or otherwise).

Now, if like me, you think that Somerton Town Council is run like a clown show then much of the responsibility must be placed at the door of the Town Clerk. There is legislation which defines how a Town Council should be run and most Town Councils, for example, publish 'Financial Regulations' to which the Council adheres. You can see Crewkerne's regulations here. To the best of my knowledge, Somerton Town Council publishes no financial regulations and its is useful to wonder why that might be and why the Town Clerk might allow the situation to continue. Might it be the case because it allows the Town Council to make up its own rules as it goes along?

With regard to the running of Council meetings, I have shown Somerton Town Council agendas to qualified observers and the response has been consistently negative. Technically, an agenda is described as follows, "The agenda is usually distributed to a meeting's participants prior to the meeting, so that they will be aware of the subjects to be discussed, and are able to prepare for the meeting accordingly." But Somerton's Town Clerk rarely publishes an agenda which informs Councillors, or the community, of the issues to be discussed and, again, it is useful to wonder why this might be.

Take, for example, the matter of the 'official naming' of the Tin Dunny. One would have thought that this matter would have been on an agenda as an individual item, possibly accompanied by a list of names under consideration. Maybe this item might have been brought into an earlier agenda to allow consultation with the community who have, after all, paid for the Tin Dunny. But no, there was no mention of the item and so it was sprung on a meeting by the Chair, Paddy the matinee idol, under the 'Chair's Report'.

Equally, if we go back to December of 2007, surely the Council agenda should have included an item regarding the Council's previously unpublished intention to include £750,000 in the 2008/09 budget for the purchase of a Community Hall. To the best of my knowledge, no such agenda item was ever published or discussed in public and it is fair to ask why the Town Clerk didn't include the item in the agenda, given his position as 'Responsible Financial Officer'.

I could dig up plenty of other examples of items which were either sprung on meetings without prior notification or were missing from agendas entirely but the point is that it is the Town Clerk's job to create agendas which fairly reflect the business of the Council. Our Town Clerk is paid £30 grand a year (plus pension) to do this sort of work but doesn't do it and it is reasonable to ask why not? Could it be that he simply doesn't use his brain or is he clueless about his responsibilities? Does he have any qualifications for the position? Does his employer expect him to gain a professional qualification as do many Town Councils?

As I don't know the terms of the Town Clerk's employment it is difficult to comment but what I do know is that by the standards of other Town Councils, our Town Clerk does his job in a very curious manner. He seems very good at obstructing the public when they ask awkward questions. He seems very good at not replying to letters. He seems very good at writing agendas which fail to inform.

My only question is whether or not he does these things naturally or does he do them under instruction. Either way, it doesn't seem to be the neutrality I might expect from someone in his position.

Till next time, may your God go with you.