People have been asking me to tell them more about the entertaining ways of Monmouth Town Council so even though some of it reads so much like a comedy script as to be barely believable it seems a pity to keep the fun all to myself.
Take, for example, the recent attempt to clamp down on pesky journalists (ie, me). The Tories got it into their heads that the relevant standing order that has served the council well for years could be improved. They took advice from their national councils body and understood that what it told them about “accredited journalists” was the exact wording of the law.
This wording, said Mat Feakins, chairman of the finance and policy (f&p) committee, “gives us knowledge of which media organisation/publication journalists are accountable to if we need to make a complaint.”
Feakins moved to “strike out [the current rule] and replace it with the legal position. We can’t be against the legal wording in any event, we have to follow the legal guidelines.” Only the Indy Monmouth councillors voted against it.
So, there you have it: that’s the Law, no doubt about it. Only... it wasn’t.
“These words were presented to us as words allegedly from the Act,” Cllr Claudia Blair told the full council when the matter came up later for ratification, “but the bit about accredited journalists is not in the Act at all. So these words are bogus. We didn’t have a chance at the meeting, there was no documentation for us to say this is the Act. It seems we’ve been hoodwinked.”
When Roden disagreed, Blair shot back: “I’ve read the Act!”
Roden replied: “We looked for legal advice and the legal advice came back with that sentence. You know, we’re not legal experts, you have to remember that.”
Feakins, however, wasn’t giving in that easily. Since the f&p committee had approved it “this isn’t the time and moment at this point in this meeting [that] we rediscuss those conversations”, he said.
But Cllr Kelly Jackson-Graham persisted: “You were able to see the legal information and we were not and that put us in a less informed position.”
The matter was put back to the next f&p meeting, when the minutes state: “The chair reported that legal advice had been received from [the national councils body]... to confirm that there is existing legislation already in place covering press attendance at meetings, and this would not need to be added to MTC Standing Orders as already the law.” Fancy that!
Did the Tories accept any blame for this fiasco? Not likely! They seemed to think it was all the fault of the national councils body. As Feakins said in the course of a near-400-word exculpation: “There was some legal advice which was picked up which we tried to incorporate in the revised media policy on the advice of One Voice Wales but it turns out they had taken their own solicitor’s advice from the [national councils body].”
But wait! You’ll never guess the punchline: when the f&p minutes initially went on the council’s website, where the big rule-change should have appeared there was just a colon followed by a line gap. Oops!
Charles Boase (Monmouth)