If like me you pay council tax here in Thanet you may be wondering just what is going on with the council and its legal fees.
There is the fifty grand on exonerating the chief executive, see http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Council-boss-influence-probe-cost-pound-46-8k/story-25699346-detail/story.html and of course the question; while she was on leave did she receive any wages from the council?
Then there is the twenty grand they spent on trying to stop Cllr Ian Driver from releasing secret documents about the Pleasurama development in Ramsgate, which they are trying to claim back from Ian Driver, who doesn’t have the money.
In both of these cases of course Ian Driver was involved and at the end of the day it looks like seventy grand that should have gone into improving facilities in Thanet has gone into the pockets of lawyers.
Underlying this is that Ian Driver is an elected councillor who seemed to have been doing what a lot locals seem to be saying they want local councillors to do. By this I mean tackle the secrecy surrounding important local issues in the council and point out possible wrongdoing by the senior people running the council.
Now perhaps all of the blame should be laid at the feet of one Ian Driver, perhaps all of the documents that the council would like to keep secret should be kept secret and perhaps no councillor officer should ever be accused of maladministration by the elected councillors. Or conversely perhaps only councillors with sufficient funds to engage in legal battles with the council should be allowed to stand for election.
Putting aside the cost of the business with the chief executive I think the business over the secret council documents is a new one. By this I mean I think the business of a council using the law and the cost of the law to control what a councillor reveals about council projects to effectively gag a councillor is a new one.
Of course you may not like Ian Driver and you may not agree with what he has to say but the business of controlling what he says to the Thanet council taxpayers as their elected representative by using legal facilities that he can’t afford seems to be possibly setting an unfortunate president.
I have to admit to not really knowing the answers to this problem, having been on the receiving end of the council’s lawyers over the Pleasurama information which involved two letters from the council’s solicitor’s both threatening me with a fine or imprisonment, in one instance for linking to an Isle of Thanet Gazette article and in the other instance for linking to the Google cached page of the same article, I came to the conclusion that something isn’t quite right here.
Of course when the council is paying £20k in legal fees to stop a councillor releasing information or a few hundred pounds for a couple of solicitors letters forcing me to remove information from the blog it is actually our money that officers are using and not their own.
I guess one aspect of this is the sledgehammer to crack a nut, inasmuch as the council didn’t use the much cheaper approach of emailing me or phoning me up and asking me to remove the information before going down the expensive route of paying for a solicitor’s letter.
I guess one lesson here for councillors is if the council serve and injunction against you, don’t try and defend it unless you have several thousand pounds to spare to pay for a barrister.
I may ramble on here if I get any more ideas about this one.