Well not really unless you believe that Bexley’s council chamber is some sort of arena where you should watch a friend and protector of criminals (think Ian Clement and the obscene blogger) stand and subvert democracy before an audience of Bexley residents; something between a dozen and sixteen of them depending on which of those in the gallery might in reality be Bexley council employees.
The quarterly council meeting is the only opportunity 220,000 residents have to question a cabinet member directly and the council generously allows a whole 15 minutes for the charade.
Last night, after we heard mayor Sams lie to us that no one could use any form of recording device because he was anxious “to protect members of the public” (Quick! Close down the CCTV system!) we were due to hear Danny Hackett ask, “Does the leader agree with councillors Davey and Eleanor Hurt and the cabinet member for Education [John Fuller]” who said on their website that O’Neill’s beloved Will Tuckley and others are paid too much and don’t do a lot. Then Elwyn Bryant was due to hear if the leader would consider amending Standing Order 84 so that it couldn’t be misapplied by the smug rule abusing magistrate, councillor Don Massey. Finally a Ms. Allen from Erith was expecting to hear councillor Peter Catterall say what impact use of the Europa Gym might have on local residents during the Olympics.
If a resident’s question is deemed to include more than one enquiry it is rejected under the rules. It is important to ensure that a written question contains only one ‘How’ or only one ‘Why’ and only one question mark or it will be ruled invalid. It’s happened to me, it is one of Bexley council’s ruses to get out of answering questions and for this meeting Bexley council had decided to answer first a question from Mr. Watson of Sidcup who wanted to know what had been done to try to collect Bexley’s £18 million of unpaid Council and Business Tax.
There being no Conservative placeman present to pose a time wasting
congratulatory question, council leader and expert criminal shelterer O’Neill
hauled her considerable self to her feet and embarked on a course first
perfected by councillor Peter Craske; the filibuster. But Craske is a mere
amateur, no one tramples all over democracy better than Boris Johnson’s most
admired local politician, the despicable Teresa Jude O’Neill. She delivered not
an answer to Mr. Watson but a lecture more appropriate to council accounts office staff
about to sit an exam to gain a professional qualification on how sanctions might be applied and
exactly how a rate defaulter can be pursued.
O’Neill ran through the sums outstanding for each of the last five years for Bexley’s Business Rates and then did the same for the best and worst (plus Greenwich) of the other London boroughs. She ploughed through the rules that must be applied to the wording of warning letters. She ran through the procedures relating to magistrates, debt recovery companies, bailiffs, earnings attachments, charging orders, bankruptcy and prison sentences. She revealed that Bexley trailed in 15th place (in London) on the list of successful collection boroughs and when the esteemed criminal shelterer had finished with Business Rates she repeated it all in relation to Council Tax. We are down in 15th place on that list too. Although Mr. Watson was only allowed one question, the Controller used the phrase “And (or because) Mr. Watson also asked” at least a dozen times. It did rather spoil an otherwise impeccable, if disgraceful, performance in the art in which she is the supreme dominatrix, quashing the public that elected her. It was instructive to look around the chamber at faces clearly in despair at the leader’s shameful antics and those who couldn’t stop laughing.
Chairman Sams was so mesmerised by the performance that he forgot to look at his stopwatch and it fell to a member of the public to call out that time was up and that O’Neill should sit down and shut up. With time expired we will never be allowed to know what Teresa O’Neill thinks about the three councillors who have broken ranks and begun to believe in Conservative party policy and Ms. Allen of Erith will be able to go back to her community and spread the word on how democracy in Bexley is dead. The rules include a prohibition on questions being repeated even if they have never been answered - or more usually - answered untruthfully.
Ms. Allen will eventually get a written answer to her question which effectively turns public questions into private questions. Danny Hackett has promised to send me his answer so that it can be published here, as well as on his own blog presumably.
Following that disgraceful performance it was the councillors’ turn to ask questions. They had posed 23 of them. Not all of them were of the crawling up my leader’s backside variety as posed by the joke councillor Philip Read - he wanted to be told yet again how Bexley has the cheapest parking in London. Councillor Davey wanted to know about the problems caused following the Environment Agency’s decision to lower water levels in the River Cray and the possibility of a solution. Cabinet member Gareth Bacon told him, referring to the poor state of the sluice gates and the obnoxious smell that had floated over the borough; and all the while looking directly at his leader.
Councillor Eileen Pallen gave councillor Peter Craske an opportunity to run through his usual routine of boasting how successful the investment in CCTV has been, so successful in fact that we have now ascended the giddy heights of success and value for money to the point that one arrest is made daily from all that expense and effort - about 80% of whom will walk free. But it gives the little man something to do and gets him into the newspapers now and again so it’s not a total waste of money. Councillor Chris Ball (Labour) suggested it might be better to place cameras at crime black spots rather than where Conservative voters bring pressure to bear. Why has no one spotted that before?
And with that time was up again. I would have liked to have heard Craske’s answer to councillor Brenda Langstead’s question about “metal reclaimers helping themselves to scrap from residents’ drives and front gardens without asking permission to take it”. I have a neighbour who would be interested in that. He ordered a Stannah style stair lift for his disabled wife and the installer put the bits and pieces by the front door while he went inside to make a space for it. When he went back outside he saw the itinerant metal thief driving off with it. The components were retrieved but had been damaged beyond repair by their flight through the air into the truck.
So 21 questions and 21 answers are now lost to the public. The councillors will get answers in due course but you will not. Several members of the public asked to be provided with copies of the answers but the request was refused. You could always take a look at the Agenda and get yourself 21 ready made Freedom of Information requests.
This report is obviously too long already and the meeting has barely started. But in the remainder of it Bexley didn’t get a mention, it was all electioneering on behalf of Boris Johnson. And we pay these clowns nearly a million pounds a year to turn up at quarterly council meetings and make fools of themselves.
More will follow. Chairman Sams runs a farce and I am sure he wants you to know it.