Fine absent councillors!?

One of the outcomes of sticking one’s head above the parapet is one is exposed and unintended consequences and the subsequent desire to embark on damage limitation exercises (e.g. this post), which could also backfire should it cause one to dig an even bigger hole to fall into, do happen. I write to our local paper occasionally and my last letter did have that effect, but I am not one to shirk a fight …

Early last week, I spotted a letter in the Echo letters page (16/12) that had the title “Fine absent councillors“. It was written by a someone whose friendship I value, whose work in the community I admire, even though in this case I didn’t entirely agree with what he wrote and was rather irritated with the contents. Given my different take on the matters raised, I decided I ought to respond.

The original letter, as printed by the Echo, begins: “I was watching the webcast from Thursday’s full council. I am so glad this facility is available as it allows me to watch what me to watch what my St. Luke’s councillors are saying, or not saying, as is unfortunately the case. I find myself getting more and more dismayed at the poor attendance of some councillors …”. The letter ends with a suggestion: “if they don’t turn up to those meetings, they should have to pay a fine from this allowance” (set at £8000 pa).

My response, printed in the Echo (18/12), albeit edited, was: “xxx may well want to fine councillors who absent themselves from Council meetings and may well have been disappointed that his (St. Luke’s) councillors were absent from the last main Council meeting. I am more disappointed at those councillors who attend meetings but do little to serve the residents in their ward, and I have on good authority such do exist. I voted for none of our independent St. Luke’s councillors but as chair of the local residents association I know how hard they have worked on behalf of residents while believing as with all councillors there is always room for improvement. Maybe when it comes to fining councillors, the work individuals put in should also be taken into account, but which god like figure can administer fairly such a system?

I would like to think anyone reading the above will understand the main thrust of my letter, although I have learned from experience that such things can not be taken for granted, as has proved the case this time, yet I do not feel I need to go over the points raised, which were meant to be supportive of my local councilors and more concerned about the activities of Council members outside of council meetings. However, it was pointed out that these did attend the last Council meeting, and I have apologized to those concerned for misreading the point made previously and giving the wrong impression when it came to the council attendance matter. Having re-read the letter that sparked off this line of thought, I can see why my misunderstanding may have arisen. The main point of that letter was a concern that some councilors miss important meetings and that should have been avoided – but the writer, by choosing to have a pop at his local councilors (inappropriately in my view) for not speaking in meetings, just happened to throw me. Given what was later to transpire, it got me thinking that maybe there is a lesson here for all of us, such as think before putting finger to keyboard!

Given I can now see more clearly my letter writing friend making the point that his/my local councilors do not say much in meetings, certainly little of importance, I feel I should add these observations appliy more widely. When I watched my first webcast, I got the impression that some who did say a lot were more wrapped up in their own self importance rather than focusing on what could be said that might be of benefit to the town I love, and those I respect most say little but the little they say are pearls. My plea to all members is to try to understand the issues and facts and contribute to the debate. What I would be looking for, when I decide who I will vote for at the next local election, is evidence that the one who is looking to be or continue as councilor will attend meetings they are expected to attend, especially when important decisions are to be made, including committees e.g. scrutiny, where the hard work is done, they will attempt to understand and weigh the issues and participate in the debate leading to these decisions being made and they will take a full part in the life of the ward they represent, taking on board the concerns of the residents they represent and doing things that will improve their lives when it is in their power to do so.

Going back to my earlier unintended consequences example, it is not appropriate to go over the details in a public forum. Suffice to say, I have stated the relevant facts and given my views, which under the circumstances I felt obliged to do. Folk are of course entitled to and will come to their own conclusions and respond as they so please.

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