The Western Gazette carries a report describing the Public Meeting held at the Tin Dunny (aka Edgar Hall) on the 29th February (The article is available in the 'Press Coverage' section of M&B). As the report describes, the meeting was well attended, particularly by members of Somerton's Old Guard including none other than Rodney Briggs. (Rodney is the husband of the current 'assistant' to the Town Clerk, Mrs Sherry Briggs.) Rodney made a rambling statement which is worthy of repetition here (please note that the capitalisation and punctuation are mine):
"We have just heard you repeat (Vice Chair read statement and letter) what seems to be Somerton Town Council's standard mantra for this business 'it was in the statement of fact' 'it was in the Auditor's revised statement of fact'. Who supplied the information for the statement of fact if it wasn't Somerton Town Council? The auditor was only in this office, in the council office for about half a day. After that you took it upon yourselves, I believe, to supply them with information. Am I correct? And you claim that you were doing it to save money, to save the costs of the Auditors coming to the office. Very laudable except when I put in a Freedom of Information enquiry to say how much money you saved, you couldn't answer me. You said, 'we don't know, ask the Auditors, they keep careful records'. But none-the-less, the Auditors received the information for this famous statement of fact from Somerton Town Council. Now this worried me a lot because our chairman was in charge of that operation and he demonstrated considerable bias against his predecessors in a meeting when he said, 'there's no smoke without fire'. So why on earth are we sitting here listening to this nonsense that's cost us so much money when quite frankly I think the whole thing was a complete stitch-up and we've just heard more of it."
From my reading of Rodney's contribution, and from my experience of Rodney in the past, Rodney isn't really interested in 'Public Documents' or the Public's right of access to such documents and, in that regard, Rodney has much in common with the Keenan/Canvin regime. No, it would seem that Rodney is bothered about the source or sources of information describing what went on within Somerton Town Council pre-27th October 2009. I don't know if Rodney is being deliberately thick but the source of that information is Somerton Town Council's own records, the very Public Documents which the Keenan/Canvin regime went to such extraordinary lengths to keep secret.
When I started to research the Public Documents held by Somerton Town Council I was very quickly denied access by the Town Council. Ultimately, the Information Commissioner ruled against the Town Council but the Town Council's actions seemed to me to indicate that they would very much prefer that I did not have access to their records. Like Rodney, this worried me a lot and I did consider that there might be documents in the records that the Town Council would wish to hide. What I did not consider, and what the External Auditor has shown very clearly, was that it was not 'documents' that were the real concern. The real concern was the 'absence of documents'.
It is clear from the External Auditor's Report that Somerton Town Council was transacting much of its business in breach of its own rules and regulations and, as a consequence, decisions were taken in secret, out of public view and without any formal record of who did what, when and on whose authority, if any. But the failings catalogued in the External Auditor's Report were not isolated incidents. They were, in fact, more contemporary illustrations of a well established culture within Somerton Town Council which stretches back to 2002 and probably well before that.
Speaking personally, I doubt that the true scale of unlawful activities undertaken by Somerton Town Council will ever be fully understood. The records of Somerton Town Council, prior to 27th October 2009, were maintained in order to obstruct enquiry and I doubt that anyone will ever take the time to find out what was going on in previous years.
As I have often said, Somerton Town Council (pre-27th October 2009) was the perfect illustration of a delinquent Council, willing to ignore both its own rules and Parliament's legislation. People like Rodney should be concerned not about sources of information but about what the information (or lack of it) says about those that it describes.
Till next time, I'm still