For years “Councillor” has been a word more spat out than said. Councillors have been depicted as a form of pond life, routinely placed on the lowest rung of the ladder of esteem, trusted less than estate agents and journalists, the butt of every Private Eye Column – Rotten Boroughs, casually assumed to be venal, mendacious, vain, stupid or malevolent.
“They’re all as bad as each other,” we say. “They’re only in it for themselves.” “You can’t believe a word they say.” These complaints are repeated so often, we barely notice them. They’re like moans about the weather, presumed to warrant no disagreement.
What accounts for this loathing of our elected public servants on Shepway District Council, the men and women we have chosen to represent us? Some of it they bring upon themselves, to be sure – and there’s no denying that the standing of Cllrs plummeted after the Simmons/Tillson expenses ‘mistake’ (though they were hardly revered before then).
The media have certainly played their part. Social media has intensified this hostility and made it even more sharply personal. However, when we email them, do they respond, generally not. When we call them do they pick up, usually not. How many of them hold surgeries for their constituents? When was the last time Cllr David Monk held a surgery in his own ward of Folkestone Harvey Central?
We can tell you why Cllrs like MPs are not believed or trusted. It is because they lie by omission. TheAdvertising Standards Authority (just scroll down to S) agree with that statement of fact too.
Ask the Constituents of Sellindge, Standford, Westenhanger, Lympne and elsewhere who have written to Cllr Jennifer Hollingsbee, to Cllr David Monk and Cllr Susan Carey about Otterpool Park and the Lorry Park. Did they reply? No. More often than not the Cllrs have chosen to remain silent. In fact the only side of the argument they have engaged with behind closed doors, is the interests of private business and you can be darn sure these private interests were replied to. The people of Shepway come second to vested interests. When was it any different?
Most if not all of us believe Cllrs are in it for themselves, well at least those who sit on the Conservative controlled cabinet. The s106 agreement for Mackenson Square in Hythe is a case in point. Cabinet agreed with Sainsbury’s to spend £65,000 in Hythe. They have spent £51,000, so who has Creamed off the Fat?
This is why we don’t trust them and this is why Sainsbury’s are now undertaking a ‘full investigation’ into the matter.
Another reason to loathe them is the fact they gave themselves a 32% pay rise back in January 2016. This pay rise started on May 2nd 2016. The rest of us are lucky if we got a pay rise at all and if we did it wasn’t much more beyond 1%.
If Cllrs want us to trust them, believe them, then they should start by being more open, more transparent and not doing things behind closed doors unless absolutely necessary. They should start by replying to emails, answering their phones and connecting with the electorate that placed them where they are.
They could start by telling us where the £14,000 has gone. They could tell us why they omitted to tell us the truth in 50,000 plus Shepway Todaymagazines which went out across the district.
Perhaps those Cllrs who are not rotten and do not sit on the Cabinet, might wish to take up these issues and investigate them. Then perhaps, just perhaps, we might begin to have faith in our Cllrs once again.
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The saving grace in our democratic system is that we maintain a right to periodically not vote them back in again. The trouble with this of course, is that too many of the electorate will not exercise their right.
One must therefore assume that they’re not really interested – either that, or they can’t be bothered to find out what’s actually going on in their name. Complacency will eventually be the death of democracy.
I suspect that good councillors, like good cops or good MPs, won’t last long if they make nuisances of themselves to their less honourable colleagues