Vote of no confidence in Pembrokeshire County Council monitoring officer fails

10:14am Saturday 8th March 2014

THE involvement of Pembrokeshire County Council’s monitoring officer in the way a call for the chief executive to stand down failed last month sparked a number of notices of no confidence against him.

An extraordinary meeting on February 14th discussed a Wales Audit Office report declaring pension payments made to the chief executive as unlawful.

Debate on a notice calling for Bryn Parry-Jones to step aside while the matter was investigated descended into farce when it emerged that monitoring officer Laurence Harding had passed press cuttings to Timothy Kerr QC.

Mr Kerr compiled a list from those cuttings of those he felt had potentially predetermined their position when they were surveyed on their opinion on whether Bryn Parry-Jones should resign.

At Thursday’s full council meeting there were five notices of no confidence in Mr Harding tabled by Cllrs Phil Baker, Mike Stoddart, Jacob Williams, Tony Brinsden and Jonathan Nutting.

Some of the councillors said they had received incorrect advice from Mr Harding in the past and questioned his impartiality following the ‘envelope incident’.

Cllr Stoddart, who said he had emailed back and forth with Mr Harding before being allowed access to information he was entitled to see, added: “That is not the way the monitoring officer should behave, the monitoring officer should be facilitating me accessing the information.”

He said monitoring officers are “supposed to be the council’s conscience” and the “honest broker that keeps us on the straight and narrow”.

There was criticism that the concern of prejudicial predetermined judgements were not brought to the attention of those councillors identified beforehand but rather announced at the February meeting in what was described as an “ambush”.

Cllr Williams said:” Mr Harding had every intention of bringing it to our attention but did it in the form of an ambush. As soon as he became aware that members may have predetermined their position his first port of call should have been those councillors not a QC.

“It’s a disgrace. He let himself down and this authority.”

He added that Mr Kerr’s presence during that part of the extraordinary meeting, in his opinion, had been to do with the vote to suspend Mr Bryn-Parry Jones and not to offer advice on the pension legal position.

Council leader Cllr Jamie Adams said as instructing solicitor for the authority to Mr Kerr, Mr Harding had an obligation to pass on any relevant information, adding that a copy of the meeting agenda was also in the envelope.

“The monitoring officer has to be impartial and I truly believe the monitoring officer we have undertakes his role with regards to that. The advice is always based on the quality of question asked of him. I have found Mr Harding to do that to my satisfaction and provide me with sound advice on a personal basis in my role on council.”

The vote of no confidence in Mr Harding failed by 20 to 34 with one abstention.

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