It didn't start well. After inviting the other councillors to introduce themselves to those residents who'd bothered to turn up in the lecture hall of the Oasis Academy, Mike Frost took his own turn.... “I'm Councillor Mike Frost, the newly elected UKIP councillor for Hengrove....” To add a bit of emphasis, he then asked those present to raise their hands if they'd voted for him – and looked a bit crestfallen at the minimalist response. Evidently UKIP voters are rare among those who actually take part in local democracy.
It could only get better after that embarrassing intro, and it did, mostly because Cllr Frost generally deferred to the more experienced officers who really run the show in these parts.
There were a couple more fireworks in the box, though.
The threat of a new bus stop
Not just any old bus stop. This one, proposed for Fortfield Road, will not merely inconvenience those living nearby. Peeping toms (well, you know what bus passengers are like) will threaten privacy, walls will collapse under their weight, vandalism and rowdyism will be rife, road accidents will rocket, and civilisation as we know it will come to an abrupt end. ( Somehow Stockwood Pete hadn't realised this when he blogged about it over a year ago.)
Most of the residents present had come simply to alert us to this threat, so that we could act now to make sure it doesn't happen. And the newly elected UKIP councillor for Hengrove made no secret whose side he was on. He brought the topic straight to the top of the agenda from its lowly spot in 'Any Other Business'
The objectors were quickly reassured that the whole issue will be revisited, this time with extensive consultation through a couple of widely advertised drop-in sessions. That wasn't enough for the objectors, though. After they'd offered some pretty broad ranging contributions from the floor, the newly elected UKIP councillor for Hengrove closed the discussion and moved to the next agenda item. Cue a mass exodus by most of the objectors, loudly complaining they'd not been listened to. The newly elected UKIP councillor for Hengrove looked perplexed. You could tell he's not been around for long.
The threat of a public forum
It was Stockwood Pete who lit the blue touch paper on the second firework. And did he really, as Stockwood Cllr Jay Jethwa claimed, twist her words? Or was he untwisting them when he said that at the last NP she'd rejected suggestions (broadly supported by the Hengrove councillors and most others present) to open up a new dialogue between councillors and residents. Whichever was true, neither was mentioned in the draft Minutes, so they could not be a true record.
Stockwood has long stood out as a ward where the councillors take pains avoid any kind of public forum where they can be held to account. And this new threat to their cosy position was a suggestion, put to the last NP meeting, that “we have a spot in the ward forum meetings...... in which councillors can report back on their activities and deal with any related questions from the floor?”
Whatever the truth of how she responded at the last meeting, this time Cllr Jethwa was unequivocal. She has NOT turned down the suggestion, and she told us so.
So maybe.... just maybe.... our next ward forum might see our Stockwood councillors tell us for the first time what they get up to at City Hall. They might even let us ask them about it. Watch this space.