THE disharmony amongst councillors at Pembrey and Burry Port Town Council continues as various factions have begun to fight it out in what’s left of the local press. Town councillors, The Mayor and Uncle Tom Cobley and all have weighed in for a fight in the public arena and each have issued press releases. It follows the recent call by Plaid Cymru’s Peter Freeman to rid the council of Labour councillors. That he said later was an error. What he actually meant he claimed was getting rid of them (Labour councillors) at election time. That may have been bad enough for the good people of Pembrey and Burry Port to hear especially as they had chosen to elect the majority of Labour councillors but there was more to follow as the councillors began their boxing match of words, sans gloves, in the public domain.
The Mayor and Deputy Mayor Cllr David Owens and Robert John insisted that they had maintained a silence in the press and on social media following reports of mayhem at council meetings in the belief that the responsible thing to do was to deal with confidential staff issues within the Council.
One could liken it to being on a submarine in enemy waters and like an episode of Soap, this may take some explaining but we will endeavour to do so.
It is claimed that a member of staff at the Town Council chose to resign after eleven months in the post. When the member of staff informed the Mayor of his decision it is claimed that he was asked to take 24 hours to reconsider his decision and to also talk to his family. Cllr Owens and Cllr John claim that the following day the member of staff informed the Mayor that he had decided to go and asked that he be allowed to leave straight away.
In a statement from the Mayor (Cllr David Owens) and the Deputy Mayor (Cllr Bob John) of Pembrey and Burry Port Town Council they said: “It must be made perfectly clear that nobody asked him (member of staff) to resign, in fact the Mayor asked him to consider his actions carefully when he wanted to resign. Since that time there has been repeated insistence by the Labour Group that discussions be held in public about his resignation despite the strong advice from the Town Clerk, the County Council Monitoring Officer and the Ombudsman that this should not happen.”
Llanelli Online was receiving a number of missives during this time including emails and phone calls from many of the people involved in the dispute. Try as we might, we could not get a clear picture of what was actually happening but we understand from telephone conversations with some of those involved that the member of staff in question is pursuing legal action.
As is the case when anything remotely controversial arises at rural, town or county level the pesky press are always excluded. This we are told is in order that items, which are extremely sensitive in nature can be discussed behind closed door. They include issues such as staffing, financial information.
This has happened we are told without exception when whosoever it was were in office. Both the the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor claim that by insisting that they comply with advice and remain professional and responsible, the Independent Councillors have suffered harassment, personal attacks, verbal abuse, intimidation and bullying by people who attended the Council meeting on 21st September. It has never been made clear to whom the councillors were referring. The mayor claims that as a result of the unruly behaviour he felt compelled to invite the local police to attend the following meeting on 13th October.
The both councillors allege that there followed more protestations surrounding the former employee and his attempts to regain his employment status and that the former member of staff had not liked the council’s answer, which was that the job that no longer existed following the changes by the Council. They claim he was informed that the job had been advertised, meaning that it was open to anyone to apply.
Much has been written elsewhere of ‘rent-a-mob’, pitchforks at dawn, impartial journalists, biased journalists, hugging journalists (God forbid). It led the council to issue ‘guidance on the admission of the public and press to council meetings’
Cllr David Owens and Cllr Bob John claim that during the meeting of the 21st September Cllr John James attempted to intimidate the Mayor into holding a public discussion on an ex- staff issue while the former member of staff was present in the audience. They go on to claim that Cllr James’s behaviour was unwise and unprofessional, disrespectful and insulting in carrying out an alleged attack on the Mayor and the Town Clerk.
There are they say two sides to every story, however some councillors claim that they were not given the opportunity to respond in the local press before articles highlighting much of the above allegations were published. Llanelli Online was sent the same press release and we contacted the councillors and the member of staff involved. Much of what we were told was not suitable for publication, given that we were told that some of those involved were seeking legal advice.
We were sent another statement from Councillors John James, Moira Thomas, Linda Edwards, Bob Walpole, Shirley Matthews, Mary Wenman, Amanda Fox and Karen Morris who make up the Labour group on Pembrey and Burry Port Town Council.
They expressed their sadness that Councillor David Owens and Councillor Robert (Bob) John also went to the pesky press and placed into the public domain what was allegedly, by their own admission, confidential council business and personal matters relating to a readily identified individual and have allegedly treated their own views and opinions as fact.
The objections from the Labour councillors include the belief that to wash one’s laundry in public is entirely inappropriate and unjust and claim that they have replied via the press ‘in the interests of justice’ and to prevent ‘serious damage to their reputations and to the council’s reputation as a whole’.
The Labour councillors claim that at the heart of the problem lies the behaviours of the non-plenary Mayor Councillor David Owens, a retired lay magistrate and Deputy Mayor Councillor Robert John, former police officer with Dyfed Powys Police.
Numerous claims are made by the Labour councillors including alleged abuse of powers and alleged false accusations against female members of the council. The Labour councillors claim that Councillor Owens has issued a plethora of emails ‘insisting that other councillors abide by his advice, decisions and edicts in matters of fact and law’.
The councillors claim that Councillor Owens has ‘no more authority or legal qualifications as an individual than any other member of the council’.
The Labour councillors claim that as a result of these alleged behaviours some female Labour councillors have ‘become concerned about their physical safety and mental health’ and that they have ‘informed the monitoring officer that they now intend to record meetings in full council and otherwise for their personal protection and peace of mind’.
Regarding the employment issue the councillors claim that the council has ‘not yet lawfully changed the job description’ as they allege is claimed by Councillors John and Owens. The job description they claim ‘remains the same other than being extended to full time employment’.
The councillors allege that Councillor Bob John and Councillor David Owens are implying or even alleging behavioural impropriety on behalf of Labour councillors. There are they claim a number of ‘factual errors or omissions’ in Councillor Owens’ and John’s statement to the press, two of which they wished to point out:
Firstly the TSO had been in the post for much longer than the 11 months quoted.
Secondly and more importantly the TSO’s doctor had written a letter stating that the TSO was receiving treatment for stress and that he was unfit at the time that he made the decision to resign and now regretted his decision. The mayor and deputy mayor and other independent councillors were made aware of this letter and the TSO’s wish to return before the decision was taken to advertise the vacancy and make the position full-time.
In conclusion the councillors state: “We hope that Councillor Bob John and Councillor David Owens are not alleging that Labour Councillors or indeed the TSO have had any part to play in any harassment, via social media or otherwise, that certain councillors have claimed to have endured, as doing so would be most unwise and at the very least bring a further dimension of complexity to a matter which is already highly complex and contentious. We freely admit that as Labour party councillors we will support any person that we believe has been treated unfairly and potentially unlawfully whether employed by Pembrey and Burry Port Town Council or otherwise and will always continue to do so regardless of personal cost to ourselves.”
It appears that the damage has been done to reputations and that Pembrey and Burry Port Town Council have embarked on a literal public punch-up, which has poured cold water on the wonderful work within the town in winning the Wales in Bloom award and cultivating a sense of pride in the community as was evident to anyone who cared to visit the town over the summer. The area of Burry port is known for its moody and tempestuous weather and skies. The waters around the shores are also fraught with danger and many a ship has been wrecked along the estuary. Pembrey and Burry Port Town Council appears to be a ship heading towards the rocks with no hope of any survivors.