Bexley council’s protracted summer holiday is over and the season of meetings
is upon us. It began in earnest last night. Top priority and first off the block
was fixing senior officers’ pay. The Top Management Review Panel is advertised
as a public meeting but in pursuance of the council’s policy of secrecy it had
been recommended by a “Proper Officer” that a vote be taken to exclude members
of the public from Agenda Item 6. I thought I’d look in anyway and upon arrival
found that two members of the Bexley Action Group had had the same idea. They
were lurking in the foyer and said they had been told they would not be admitted.
The doorman told me he wasn’t sure where the meeting was being held.
Total exclusion was unexpected because the Agenda was emblazoned with the usual guff about audio/visual recording not being permitted without the prior approval of the chairman. Actually that is double guff as this is a meeting which elects its chairman as Agenda Item 1 so prior approval is impossible. But that is, with luck, a past battle duly won by Nicholas Dowling and one more lie doesn’t much matter.
So there we were standing in the foyer refused access to a public meeting again and contemplating more complaints about illegal exclusion when Mr. Hollier, the Head of Human Resources, sauntered by. Mick Barnbrook spoke to him and explained the situation. Mr. Hollier said he would make enquiries and report back as soon as he could. He was as good as his word. At 19:34 we were led into the Board Room and given a nice comfy chair of a type you don’t see in the Council Chamber. Councillors Colin Campbell, Peter Craske, Teresa O’Neil, Alex Sawyer and opposition leader Chris Ball were there along with Chief Executive Will Tuckley smiling broadly. The Agenda indicated councillor Kerry Allon would be there too but I confess to not noticing him; maybe he had popped out for a fag again.
The election of the chairman took the inevitable course and Teresa took up the role. She almost immediately asked for a vote on exclusion of the public but if there was one I must have blinked. There was a sort of low level grunting sound after which we were shown the door. We had enjoyed the comforts of the Board Room for exactly two minutes.
This was no more than a very small victory for democracy. A matter of principle. Bexley council, or maybe it was just the wicked witch, had assumed that the vote would go the way it did and the public might as well be totally excluded. Another demonstration of disdain for democracy that the voting procedure had to be forced on her. It looks like Mr. Hollier’s wiser counsel has prevented another round of complaints. Perhaps he deserves a pay rise.