madaxeman

October 13, 2011

The strange case of the #PamBot

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 7:52 pm

Readers will probably remember that, a few months ago, I got involved with the furore concerning #DaftArrest – the case of a lady who was arrested for the heinous crime of trying to record, in a public meeting, what her local council got up to… I engaged with the Chief Executive of Camarthenshire Council, one Mr. Mark James, and we had a bit of debate on this very blog. It would not be unfair, I think, of me to describe his performance as “somewhat disappointing”.

I’ve followed the lady the case concerned, Jacqui Thompson, on Twitter throughout the intervening period. I like her blog – she has a good writing style and a penchant for exposing things the council would rather not have exposed – sort of like a micro Private Eye…

It has become clear however through her comments, together with those of others (including councillors), that the problems at Camarthenshire seem to extend beyond the #DaftArrest case – and I now have serious concerns as to whether the council is truly operating in a democratic manner, or whether it is truly accountable to the people it supposedly serves…

This being the case, I was delighted to learn of the Council’s intentions for Local Democracy Week – they had decided to have one of the Councillors from the Executive Board actively tweet for the duration of the week… Now, Twitter as we all know is very much a two way mechanism – indeed it’s the ethos of “engagement” that makes it particularly well suited when it comes to political discourse – so I bided my time – sharpened the axe, polished the block, and waited for Coucillor Pam Palmer to grace us with her electronic presence…

My idea was very simple – as soon as she started Tweeting, I would pressure her to answer, or at the very least comment on, the questions that a number of us #DaftArrest campaigners would like answered…

So, on with the first question…

@PamPalmerCCC How does the Chief Exec get to decide that a no confidence vote in the leader will not be considered> Is this democratic?

Clearly, this is a serious question. Basically, one of the councillors launched a motion of no confidence in the leader of the council, and the Chief Executive, Mark James (who is not an elected member) decided that it would not be considered. This seems to be a recurrent theme with Camarthenshire County Council – the officers seem to run the councillors, as opposed to the traditional view that things might be more accountable if this were to be handled the other way around…

It seems however that the democracy and how it might be applied to a council she sits upon wasn’t a captivating enough topic to hold Councillor Palmer’s attention long enough to grace me with a reply…

Hardly disheartened, I thought we’d perhaps try something a little more clear cut…

@PamPalmerCCC Also, how much discretion does Chief Exec have to make up and enforce rules that aren’t in the standing orders?

This comment stems from the #DaftArrest affair, which I really don’t want to go into in this post – but the point is a valid one. The Chief Exec seems to be able to make up “rules” (or indeed “practices”) off the cuff – so I thought that perhaps an elected  supposed public servant on the Executive Board might be able to clarify the position… No response though.

Ever onward… Maybe the good councillor didn’t appreciate how important some of us take democracy – so I thought I’d give her something to think about…

@PamPalmerCCC Do you support the Libyan people, who finding themselves under unaccountable dictatorship overthrew it by force?

No comment from the good lady councillor.

Well, maybe she’s died, or ran off to join a commune or something… I happened to know however that Jacqui Thompson would be attending a full council meeting that Councillor Palmer would presumably be at, so I thought I should do my bit and have someone look in on her to make sure she was alright…

@caebrwyn Can you check @PamPalmerCCC is ok pls? Nagging suspicion she might had died and noone noticed…

Jacqui promptly reassured me that the councillor appeared live and kicking…

I began to get a little annoyed now – I am clearly being ignored. It can’t simply be that Councillor Palmer is merely overlooking my questions – after all, she is engaging in the festivities of Local Democracy Week – it has to have occurred to her that some of us might engage with her…Maybe I should try the topic on which I had originally crossed swords with the Emporer himself, Chief Exec (and part time Sith Lord I suspect…) Mark James. (I declared myself Jedi in the census, so I have a moral duty to be on the lookout for “Sithy” types…)

@PamPalmerCCC What possible reason is there to deny filming of public meetings. Are scrutiny and awareness a bad thing? #pambot

In what you’ll doubtless feel is becoming a theme here, no reply was forthcoming! Not a single reason… I can only guess that Mr. James had a really bad morning on the day of #DaftArrest then – probably Ewoks shitting on his lawn again or something – and vented a bit. Certainly it seems there was no possible reason which the Council, in Local Democracy Week, felt it might want to discuss with me…

Concerned about the possibility of a last ditch military liberation of the people of Wales when Jacqui finally gets pissed off enough to think “screw it!” and takes County Hall by force, I thought I at least owed it to the councillor to highlight the danger…

@PamPalmerCCC also, do you agree that by not engaging authorities actually welcome armed rebellion?

Councillor Palmer didn’t reply. I have to presume she had just nipped out to Tesco or something to get some butterfly cakes with which to greet the triumphant rebel council… Get the doyles out – bit of a spread…

It occurred to me that when General Jacqui advanced upon County Hall, she was probably going to expect a little direct support from her trusted lieutenants… One of the ways people often fall down in their dealings with the council is by some initial act of inconsideration that draws them to the attention of their rulers – so I thought I had better check the parking situation…

@PamPalmerCCC If I liberate Carmarthenshire, where’s best place in your carpark to leave an armoured personnel carrier?

Rather characteristically, Councillor Palmer didn’t crack. Really, I think we should put this girl in the intelligence services – she’s truly wasting her talents in local government…

One of my colleagues at work invited me to “Think of the children…”. A good point :

@PamPalmerCCC Do you have a nice sturdy wall we can line you all up against come the revolution? Preferably out of sight of local schools…

Still having not heard from the good lady, I issued what will probably be my parting shot to her…

@PamPalmerCCC If you refuse to speak with me, pls explain why. Otherwise I feel as though eitherI am ignored from contempt for the public…
@PamPalmerCCC … or because your participation inLocal Democracy Week is a woeful PR sham – paying lipservice to democracy. Which is it?

Astonishingly, no reply…

Time to get serious!

Many of you, particularly those of you in the employ of the Council, have probably read the above and decided that I’m a self righteous annoying little prick who is dicking around making a mockery of the council for laughs. To some extent, you’re right – I am…

But there’s a very serious point underlying all of this. It’s come to our attention that Councillor Palmer has to use headphones in council meetings when listening to Welsh speakers – which rather suggests that she doesn’t herself speak the language. Since “her” Tweets have been submitted in both languages (no, she hasn’t answered anyone else’s questions either – don’t be silly…), it seems reasonable to conclude that these tweets are actually being made in the Councillor’s name by members of the Council’s staff. It follows from this that seeing as staff are being used to run the @PamPalmerCCC account, ie they are doing it professionally, our questions are not merely being missed – they are being deliberately ignored! These are serious questions that go right to heart of the fundamental purpose of the council…

I may have made a mockery of the Council, but the Council themselves are making a mockery of democracy – and I’m quite comfortable with where the lesser of the two evils lies. It’s time to take the Council back from the officers and actually have the opinions of members heard – literally – for a change.

It is vital that the local press, and the local people, put this council under FAR more scrutiny. Elected representatives would seem to be surplus to requirements now in Carmarthenshire , and that makes me very nervous…

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4 Comments »

  1. I think the description of the activities to mark Democracy Week as festivities is putting it a bit strong. The “festivities” comprised the one-way tweeting exercise by the council’s PR department and a competition for “youngsters” to design a poster to encourage young people to vote.

    The whole point of Democracy Week is supposed to be to engage young people, to get them to register and vote. I doubt whether a single person would be inspired by this pathetic charade.

    All it was was a box ticking exercise. Democracy Week? Costs: nil. Done. Next.

    Comment by Dic — October 13, 2011 @ 8:03 pm | Reply

    • What continually amazes me is the casual indifference this council seem to have for the people who put them there… I considered at one point trying to get elected, but if these are the kind of people I would have had to deal with, then perhaps it’s for the best that I stick to computing…

      Comment by madaxeman — October 13, 2011 @ 8:32 pm | Reply

  2. When I first locked horns with this council, brushed aside with arrogance and disdain, my serious and justified questions ignored, I felt alone and isolated. Surely this isn’t how council’s treat the taxpayer, the mere peasants who pay their salaries. Go seek out your councillor I was frequently advised, he’ll sort things out for you. That was seven years ago, with no resolution to this day. It is so refreshing and somewhat of a comfort, to now read blogs such as yours Jacquie’s and Cyneifer’s etc. etc., realising it is not personal to me, with myself to blame for their total lack of respect to my rights, they appear to treat all questioning beings with the same contemptuous, derisory responses. The feedback from blogs and readers comments, make clear where the fault lays. Squarely on the shoulders of the inept leaders of this rotten council. Oh if only it were simply a case of being inept though; that could be rectified. Worryingly, it is far more insidious, and intervention from the Assembly is becoming dire. Thank you all for your efforts in exposing injustice and the demise of democracy.

    Comment by Patricia — October 14, 2011 @ 1:37 pm | Reply

  3. […] Carmarthenshire coundil chief executive Mark James is suing Jacqui Thompson, a community councillor from Llanwrda near Llandovery. Mr James’ decision to sue her followed her action in issuing a libel writ against him for comments he made about her on a blog called madaxeman, run by a man in the north of England (madeaxeman.wordpress.com). […]

    Pingback by Funding ban for council over blog libel case - cymru.uk.com - Business in Wales — March 18, 2012 @ 12:02 pm | Reply


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