Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Councillor Woodley

For those of you who have witnessed the webcast of the council meeting on Thursday you may be a little bemused by the actions of Thorpe Independent councillor Ron Woodley. I hope it is a fair account to say that he started by indicating that he was prepared to take donations in return for not speaking in the budget debate, changed his mind towards the end, then left his seat and apparently the chamber, cast his vote in favour of the budget from near the exit door, returned after the tea break and after a few minutes tried to raise a point of order (which it wasn't!) to demand an apology from me, refused to accept the Mayor's ruling, insulted the Mayor's authority over the meeting, insisted that he would remain standing which he did for some minutes and when rebuked by the Chief Executive for ignoring the Mayor (and by implication the Constitution) and disrupting the debate by playing with the microphones stormed out of the chamber and into the public gallery. Call me an old traditionalist but hardly the behaviour of a member who believes that he will soon be Leader and regularly announces this to council officers and others. It seems strange to me that someone who is heralded as such a financial guru should seriously suggest not participating in the most important financial debate of the council year particularly when he has been so vocal in the press and elsewhere on our approach to the budget. For the avoidance of doubt his signature on the Memorandum of Understanding almost 2 years ago did not require this stance. It acknowledged that he was at liberty to formally propose any cost neutral amendments he wished during the process so long as when those amendments had been accepted or refused he supported the Administration in voting through a budget. It seemed to me that he was hiding behind the memorandum and charitable donation to avoid justifying his position on borrowing and the wider budget. I am also concerned at the increasing lack of respect shown to the Mayor when chairing council meetings. There are well establisher protocols which include complying with directions given by the Mayor, standing when addressing the Mayor, not making rude or inappropriate comments directed at the Mayor or officers and making contributions from the designated seat in the Chamber which should be followed or the entire process will simply degenerate into a free for all. I am not suggesting that Cllr Woodley committed all these acts or that he is the only culprit but some in the Chamber seem to think that such action is clever or funny and in my view this needs to be stopped. As to the particular issue that Cllr Woodley took exception to it was my assertion that he had "bought" a committee chair in exchange for supporting the budget. I am slightly bemused that he or indeed anyone else was surprised at this. The memorandum of Understanding which was negotiated by me and Ron and subsequently published on the council website made clear that in exchange for the support of the then 3 Thorpe independents in ensuring that we could deliver a majority vote on the budget we would agree to abandon certain proposed parking changes in Thorpe and would agree to cede a number of important chairs to the opposition. Subsequently I agreed with Ron a division of Chairs to include my acceptance of his demand for the Chair of the Economic and Environmental Scrutiny Committee. In the event in a contested vote Ron beat Graham Longley as a result of support from my group. In other circumstances I would have expected Graham to win. I fail to see how it is offensive to record the trade between budget support and the allocation of Chairs. I don't regard this as a matter of criticism for either Ron or me and would not do so unless either of us tried to deny the deal that was struck - which would be quite tricky bearing in mind the published memorandum and evidence of the votes which subsequently took place! When the public contrives to create a situation with no overall control it leaves it to the politicians to negotiate and form pacts and agreements. We have seen this at national level as well as locally across the country. In our case no other leader was prepared to enter into an agreement with me and it was clearly in the best interests of the town and council to create an element of stability by the deal with Ron.

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