Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Why Did They Resign?

I saw Harriet Snookes of the Bucks Herald talking to Fiona, the Parish Clark, and Mrs. Green, a Wendover Resident in dispute with the parish over a square meter. Harriet has a really hard job there, to sort out the facts about the dispute. But that is only the Casus Beli. I hope she does not loose the plot there. The real question is not who is right (in this case everybody is right and everybody is wrong) but why was this not settled in the usual amicable manner that characterised the Wendover Parish Council until now, and what was the straw that broke the patience of the councillors who voted with their feet.

I obtained copies of some of the resignations letters under the Freedom of Information Act. There seems to be a similar theme running through them. I read in them the pain of having been forced to divorce from a long standing commitment to serving Wendover with love.

When Norman Western read out his letter of resignation, what impressed me the most was not his words - powerful as they were - but his voice. It conveyed deep anger and hurt. He said that he had hoped that he would be able to contribute something of value to benefit the community of Wendover as a whole. That, he wrote, has proved a vain hope. He blamed the corrosive environment: ‘Council meetings have become totally emasculated, due to the continuous, “nit picking” as part of the ongoing vendetta against the Parish Clerk.” This, he said, caused him considerable emotional distress.

Another who displayed exasperation is Angus McKechnie. He stormed out of the meeting when he realized that the ‘appalling and dreadful behaviour’ of Councillors Gregory and Ballantine was to continue to sandbag the proceedings. Others have pointed out these two as the ones who have put the sticks in the wheels of the Parish Council. Eileen Mckechnie goes further to mention Councillor Clayton.

Now I would not hasten to tarnish Councillors Gregory and Ballantine with the same brush. When I started to listen in to the Parish Council meetings, I knew no one and did not know their political affiliation. Up to the unfortunate eruption of the Mrs. Green Issue the council was ticking along very nicely and I formulated my opinion of the councillors based on what they said, how they said it and what was reported that they did. Some impressed me very much.

I tended to agree with most of what Councillor Gregory proposed and my impression was of an experienced sharp councillor. When I met her and her sister, Mrs. Green on several occasions they were always warm towards me and I could imagine them coming over for afternoon tea and scones in my wife’s wonderful garden (Plug: http://www.acercorner.com/). So what went wrong? Impatience, temper, involvement of lawyers, and single mindedness. I can see how constant pressure and bad advice have slowly wrong-footed this otherwise good councillor. Originally the general mood of the council was that this issue should be resolved fast and if possible without bad blood. But as it dragged on and more heated words were said, Mrs Gregory found her support was dwindling. That made her actions more desperate. And this is where the rest of the council is to blame. They should have resolved it. I do not know what went on outside the Parish Meetings. But I think there was an attempt to clear the water. That seemed to have done the trick for a meeting or two. I could see the pressure she felt and that she truly believed she was right – a hand should have been extended to pull her out (I know, it is easier said than done). I felt for her when I realized her only ally left was Councillor Ballantine.

Councillor Ballantine? She might have been an excellent councillor in the past. But almost from the word Go, I marked her in my mind as a Liability.

Alas, the vote of no-confidence the resignation letters convey does not compel their subjects. I hope they read the writing on the wall. For the best of Wendover, I plea to all the rest of the councillors that have not resign yet, to do so to help save face and open the way to the resolution of this affair.

Writing this saddens me. I would prefer to end with a positive note. Allow me to quote from Dr. Sheila King who was the first casualty of this saga:

“I would like to acknowledge the enormous support and sound advice I have received as Chair of the Council from two Councillors in particular – namely Ted Wilkinson and Eileen McKechnie. I would also like to acknowledge the excellent work of some members of the Council – most notable Stephen Worth and Joel Stevens – who have quietly and productively gone about what I believe to be the true business of Councillors ie significantly improving the environs of Wendover for all.”

May we always see the full half.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Lost for Words

The wonderful weather the last few days has encouraged us to get out to the garden and spend some family quality time preparing the garden for its opening on the 25th of May in aid of the Ian Rennie charity, see http://www.acercorner.com/. However, for some the enjoyment of this wonderful spring has been tarnished. No, I am not talking about the Labour party. I am thinking about our Wendover Parish Council.

Yesterday I was given a compliment (paraphrasing): “We have been checking your blog for a comment on the Parish Meeting last Monday. Why have you not written anything?” Well, I could say I was very busy with my work (which is true), my wife gave me a lot to do in the Garden, I was working on my contribution to the Chiltern Writers Group Anniversary Anthology, or just that I did not want to spoil my excellent mode induced by the eruption of spring in the Garden. But this would not be true. When I came home Monday I was itching to bang into the blog my anger but when I put fingers to keyboard I just could not find the right words. I was shell-shocked, flabbergasted and dumfounded.

I sat through the meeting in sheer agony. There are several dimensions to the calamity the parish is experiencing. The most important in my mind is the tension between certain councillors (and their “advisors”) and the Parish Clerk, Fiona. I suppose this is another reason I got stuck with writing an entry on Monday. People expect me to ‘declare’ on what side of this issue I fall. I do not really want to be dragged into this murky swamp. I do however fear that one of the casualties of this sorry state of affairs might be Fiona.

Loosing Fiona, or just loosing here enthusiasm for the job will hurt the Parish much more than loosing certain councillors. We have already lost councillors I have learnt to respect and appreciate their immensely important contribution to the Parish. It started with the resignation of Dr Sheila King and now we face an avalanche of resignations. To-date:

Ted Wilkinson
Eileen McKechnie
Angus McKechnie
Norman Western
Steve Bowles
Brian Prior

Those of us who follow the Parish Council will appreciate the severe blow this loss is. It was brought home immediately in the last meeting where Councillor Ballantine made a pigs breakfast of her attempt to step into Steve’s shoes.

But I digress from the main issue, Fiona. My outsider’s impression of Fiona is that she is dedicated, hard working, friendly and professional. The parish has invested in her training and until the ‘Green Affair’ flamed up last year, she was chugging along very nicely, thank you very much. Yes, she is on a learning curve. The business of keeping democracy ticking is very complex. The training Parish Counsellors get is mainly of how to find the right rule or regulation. This ‘lawyer’ type thinking is critical to the correct running of the Parish. The Chair and Councillors have often sent Fiona off to check the correct way of approaching issues. But when she sticks to the letter of the rule book (her bible) there are those who see parallels to Sir Humphrey manipulating the government machine. That is not what I see. What I see is a good Parish Clark who has our village good at her hart and that has the potential to become an excellent Clark. What will make her excellent? Experience. Experience and seniority provide one with the perspective that allows one to operate without constantly referring to the Book. This leads to a more relaxed and mature approach to doing ones job, handling the takes and duties, and interpreting the Councils decisions.

Last Monday the leaking Ship hit a debilitating storm, lost its second captain and many good hands. Whatever measures are taken to keep it afloat, in Valen’s name, do not execute the chief mechanic. We need the engine running. First to work the pumps and then to get back on course.

There, I think I managed to get through this entry without getting involved in the ‘Green Affair’. I want to keep myself impartial on this one.