Since the publication of the External Auditor's Report in the Public Interest, I have been surprised by the manner in which the Report was received by Somerton's 'Old Guard' and, in particular, by the most vocal and coherent member of the 'Old Guard', Mr Pat Mountain. The general thrust of the 'Old Guard's' defence of Keenan/Canvin has been that, contrary to the findings of the External Auditor, Keenan/Canvin did nothing wrong and, if anything, they cut a few corners to get things done.
In truth, I have found this position quite hard to square with the damning contents of the External Auditor's Report and with my own knowledge of what went on within Somerton Town Council up till 27th October 2009. But the Old Guard have been vocal and aggressive in their pursuit of their rather curious view and it has made me wonder just why they seem quite so blind to what was wrong with what went on.
Its also true to say that, until the appearance on the scene of Mr Mountain, I had always seen Keenan & Canvin as the prime instigators of all that went on within Somerton Town Council during their tenure. And then I started to wonder about the resignation of a previous Chair of Somerton Town Council, Mr Geoff Bryant. The following is quoted from his resignation statement of 28th October 2003:
"Differences and dissent are indicators of a healthy Council. Furtive Meetings in backrooms are not. I understand that most of what was said concerned matters that were actually the responsibility of another Cttee Chairman, one with whom I have almost daily contact. The debate which was allowed to take place was, by normal Council standards, quite improper.
The unfortunate situation which has arisen, has been caused, I believe, by 1 or 2 Cllrs involved in the hard work of successfully harvesting the fruits of the foundation work of our predecessors becoming over-zealous in the protection of their empires and ignoring the wider responsibilities of the Council to all parties. This is understandable, but it is wrong.
My predecessors, as Chairman, ensured that the perception amongst some, that a political cabal unduly influenced the Council had ended. I have twice had to remind some Cllrs that a different clique cannot be allowed to appear to dominate the Council."
Mr Bryant has remained quite circumspect in his comments about events of that time but it can be inferred from his resignation statement that private and exclusive meetings and discussions were taking place within Somerton Town Council well before the advent of the Keenan/Canvin leadership.
Now, I am no historian and I am sure that others can provide the details but a cursory glance at the Minutes shows that Mountain stepped down as Chair of STC in May of 2000 but continued as a Cllr with the Chair being taken by Cllr Geoff Boxall. Cllr Boxall stepped down in May of 2002 to be replaced by Cllr Bryant with Cllr Mountain as Vice-Chair. Then, a year later and with Cllr Bryant's resignation, the baton was handed neatly to Keenan/Canvin who, I would suggest, resumed 'business as normal' or business the 'Mountain Way'.
So, rather than being unique, Keenan/Canvin may well have been part of a continuum which stretched, who knows how far back? Certainly back into the 1990s and possibly well before Mr Mountain's time. But it is still difficult to explain the Old Guard's vehement rejection of the findings of the External Auditor unless you consider the parallel involvement of Mr Paul Audemars.
Mr Audemars came on the Old Guard team relatively recently but was the original owner of the web domain www.somerton.co.uk (with its strong links to the Somerton Business & Trade Association) and also, more recently, the Secretary of one of Langport's three Masonic Lodges. Whilst I have tried to avoid any consideration of Masonic involvement, Audemars' link with the Masonic brotherhood is the first documented evidence of any such connection with Somerton's Old Guard and, by extension, with the Keenan/Canvin administration. And the moment that you consider Masonic involvement you start to wonder about the Old Guard's denial of the findings of the External Auditor. Consider this extract:
“You must conceal all crimes of your brother Masons...and should you be summoned as a witness against a brother Mason be always sure to shield him...It may be perjury to do this, it is true, but you're keeping your obligations” - from Edmond Ronayne's 'Handbook of Masonry', written in the mid 1880s.
Now I am sure that Mr Audemars will seek to debunk this quotation but Jack Straw made some rather more contemporary comments in 1997 when he said:
"Membership of secret societies such as freemasonry can raise suspicions of a lack of impartiality or objectivity. It is therefore important the public know the facts. I think it is the case that the freemasons said they are not a secret society but a society with secrets. I think it is widely accepted that one secret they should not be keeping is who their members are in the criminal justice system."
So, given that a Freemason has an obligation to support his brethren, that might offer an explanation of why the Old Guard's rejection of the External Auditor's Report has been quite so vicious and vehement. Its also possible that, if the idea of a 'Mountain Way' of doing business was generally accepted practice, the Keenan/Canvin administration and their Old Guard supporters may have thought that ignoring the rules was acceptable behaviour. Either way, I'd be very happy to receive a response to either possibility, as long as the writer puts their name to it, and I'll publish it here, on Muck & Brass.
Till next time, I'm still Niall Connolly