30 June 2010

Teflon Tony and the convenient clerk

In the 18 months that I've spent requesting access to, and looking at, the 'records' of Somerton Town Council (principally the records of the Keenan/Canvin administration) one feature has slowly emerged and that is the almost complete absence of anything (other than cheques!) signed by ex-Cllr Canvin.

Considering that ex-Cllr Canvin was seen by many people (including Teflon Tony himself) as the dynamo that drove the Council, the fact there there is little record of decisions made, action taken or instructions issued by Teflon would seem to be curious to say the least.

Take for instance, the manner in which bids were invited for the land at Etsome Terrace. As Far as I know, there was no specific proposal put before the Council to sell the land into residential development, neither was there any authority given by the Council to any individual to act as agent in the matter, yet the Council received three bids for the land (albeit only two being addressed to the Council). So how did Edgar Builders, Brookvale Homes and West of England (the three bidders) know that the land was for sale, especially as the sale was never advertised? The answer is simple - Teflon invited his chosen list of developers to put in bids but, being allergic to putting anything in writing, Teflon used his telepathic powers to communicate with his chums. The result? No record of Teflon's involvement, other than by inference and third party reporting.

Then there is the equally curious matter of the meeting that Teflon and the clerk held with Penn Hill surgery on 19th August of 2008. The clerk failed to enter any details of this meeting into the Town Council's business diary (because he didn't keep one) and it would have gone unrecorded had it not turned up in one of those pesky Freedom of Information enquiries.

Quoting from emails between Penn Hill and Somerset NHS, Teflon and the Clerk met with them to present a proposal (click or double/click on the images and they will open in a larger version):

In a follow-up email, Penn Hill refer to the proposal in the following terms:

More curious, however, is the disparity between the meeting described in these emails and the convenient Clerk's recent memory of the same meeting. The Clerk's statement is in bold and italics:

The following is a statement as to the basis for and content of the ‘meeting’ referred to by Mr Connolly in his latest FoI Request.

The meeting such as it was, was held in my old office, in the Parish Rooms, on the 19th August 2008.
Present were Neil Dyer (Practice Manager of Penn Hill Surgery), Cllr Canvin and myself.
This meeting was some 8 days after the Planning meeting held in St Michael’s Church, Somerton where the application on behalf of the PCT for a Medical Centre on land at The Millands had been overwhelmingly rejected by the townsfolk of Somerton and the Town Council. The ‘meeting’ was completely informal, with no specific agenda and no notes were taken or actions required of the Council in any way as a result of the discussions.

The meeting focussed on just 2 items:
1. Comments to the effect that, if anyone involved with the preparation of the then current planning application had spoken to anybody connected with either the town or indeed the Town Council, the likely outcome of such an application on land at The Millands would have been predicted, such that potentially time and money could have been saved. Obviously the decision to apply is for the applicant to make, but there had appeared to be a simplistic view towards the likelihood of local objections.
2. While the outcome the previous week might have appeared to be entirely negative, the intention at the ‘meeting’ was to re-assure the Surgery that there was general agreement that a new Medical Centre was needed, and that if this could be achieved by re-developing the existing surgery site then the Council, as landlord, would be ready to at least listen to any proposals so that such an option should not be dismissed out of hand.
(Nothing ever materialised as a result of this conversation).

Which version of events should we set greater store by? Well, the Penn Hill emails are pretty much contemporaneous having been written about a week and a month after the event whereas the Clerk's version is written, seemingly from memory, 18 months later. I guess that I'd go for the Penn Hill version, but that's me. I'll leave you to make up your own mind.

From my reading of the emails from Penn Hill to Somerset NHS, it is quite clear that a proposal was put to them by Teflon and the Clerk and, equally clear, is the view that there would be no selection process (ie competitive tendering) if Somerton Town Council ran the project. Furthermore, it is clear that Penn Hill understood that the 'contractor' would be a "local individual/councillor" and I think a safe assumption is that they were referring to our very own Teflon.

However, the Clerk's recollection of the same meeting is almost diametrically opposed to Penn Hill's version in that, rather than making a proposal to Penn Hill, Somerton Town Council were open to any proposals made to them. Both versions cannot be 'true' and it may be that the Clerk's recollection of this meeting is possibly hazy. What is clear, however, is that Penn Hill clearly thought that a proposal was being put to them, not the other way around.

Was Teflon's presence at this meeting an abuse of his position as a local Councillor given his business interests and the clear implication that he would be a benficiary of the project should it have come to fruition? Should the Clerk have advised him that he should rule himself out of any business involvement in the project, to protect the reputation of the Town Council? If the Clerk's version of events was accurate then the Clerk probably had no need to protect the Council's reputation. But if the Penn Hill version is correct then there was, yet again, clear conflict of interest and abuse.

As I've already said, the meeting between Penn Hill and Somerton Town Council would have gone un-noticed had I not made a Freedom of Information enquiry on another matter. But I am moved to ask how many other meetings were held like this and involving Teflon Tony? How many meetings like this one were held and, as a result, something did materialise? Because of the Town Clerk's abject failure to keep appropriate records, we will never know. And that is convenient.

Till next time, I'm Niall Connolly