More Midsomer Murders than Vicar of Dibley

The last meeting was the one to have been at. Threats and abuse were exchanged between members of the public and councillors, the chair was repeatedly called a liar by a councillor, members of the public joined in with shouts of “rubbish” and “shut up”. At some point during what was obviously a rowdy meeting one councillor allegedly hit another. The police are investigating so we weren’t allowed to discuss the matter at this meeting which didn’t stop people from referring to “the disgraceful behaviour of certain people”. The chair read out a letter of complaint from a member of the public who attended the last meeting, it was a very articulate account of what she described as intimidation and bullying as well as rudeness and inappropriate behaviour. The letter had apparently appeared in full in the local paper. This presumably explained the large turnout and police presence for this meeting. Parish council meetings don’t usually attract more than a handful of people unless there is a controversial item on the agenda like the districts plans for new housing on/near the green belt. Mostly people don’t get excited about maintaining the grass verges or the hanging baskets down the main street.

It wasn’t clear what the issue was that got everyone so excited at the last meeting but it soon became clear who the villain was, that he had his supporters in the audience and that other members of the committee intended to have their revenge. The body language was provocative, the exaggerated yawn every time he spoke, the turning away as in I am ignoring you and the whispered aside for the amusement of a co-conspirator all accompanied by comments from the public sat only a few feet away.

First a vote of censure not relating to the last meeting but “persistent” inappropriate behaviour.  This was carried with two abstentions, to shouts of “stitch up” from a section of the public. Then a vote to remove this councillor from a long list of committees he sat on. Again carried with two abstentions following a half hearted defence in which it was said that whilst the individuals  behaviour could not be condoned he did make some good contributions to discussions.

The main business of the evening being over we left. My wife with no direct experience of local government committees asked if councillors were normally as rude and members of the public so ignorant.

Blair McPherson writer and commentator on local government           

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