Friday, 27 June 2008

Who to believe - the old man or the donkey ?

The old man of the village who was thought to be the wisest, had a visit from his neighbour one day, who asked to borrow his donkey. The old man didn’t like this neighbour much and not wanting to loan the donkey said, “I would love to loan you my donkey, but my brother came only yesterday and borrowed it. The donkey, sadly, is not here.” The neighbour was disappointed but thanked the old man and began to walk away. Just then the donkey, which was in the old man’s garden, let out a loud bray.The neighbour turned to the old man and said, “I thought you told me that the donkey was not here!” The old man looked at the neighbour. “My friend,” he said, “Who are you going to believe? Me or the donkey?”

Living in Maltby at the moment, it is very easy to feel like that neighbour. Who are we to believe and who’s lead do we follow when we are presented with divisions and disputes which appear to increase as each day goes by ? Those who have been elected and presumably strive towards the betterment of Maltby, or members of the public, many of who feel that they are being treated contemptuously by some of the very people who are representing them? Clearly the best plan is to listen to the facts and to make your own mind up about the scenario. But this is virtually impossible too.
Discussions in Town Council meetings have recently turned into what a late entrant could easily mistake for a Pantomime, with abuse from councillor to councillor, councillor to Chair and councillor to public. Yes, the public have responded, not always appropriately, but then, we are after all “the public” - the ordinary people who are not affiliated with the governing body. If we have cause to think that we have been mislead then it is obvious that we are going to be disgruntled, and act so. If we have reason to suggest that our money is being spent unwisely, then we have the right to say so and expect a reasonable response. But this democratic exchange of views is not happening - either between the public and the council or amongst the councillors themselves.

The main principles of democracy are firstly, that all members of the society have equal access to power and secondly, that all members enjoy the same recognised freedoms and liberties. “Majority rule” is often the description of a democratic system, but when this is not carefully legislated, an uneven distribution of power can occur which threatens the democracy itself. Is this what is happening within our community? Unfortunately, this seems to be the case. That there are many differences of opinion is clear, but in a healthy community this would be a good thing. The differences would be debated until a mutual agreement came about which benefits everyone. What we are experiencing in Maltby is not so healthy, however, as there is an element of power shifting towards individuals, where the “best for the community” option does not always come first. This is not only within the Town Council, but amongst some members of the community who appear to enjoy a role with a “title” and the power that this seems to bring. Perhaps it is human nature that this happens as we progress up the “society ladder” or what we perceive to be a ladder of success. Maybe we convince ourselves that what we are doing is for the benefit of all when in fact the “all” have not really been asked.

The improvement/regeneration of Maltby is under discussion and has been since 2005 when RMBC secured funds for the Maltby Masterplan In fact more than that – it has been discussed, the community has apparently been consulted in detail and a consultation report produced. The next steps are in progress and “delivery of interventions” begins July 2008. I as a resident of Maltby, did not know about much of this until recently as the detailed community consultation passed me by (I did not see the consultation document on a table in a tent on Coronation park, at last years Maltby Festival) Is it too much to expect to be informed, openly and honestly of issues that affect us and for which our Council Taxes pay, without the residents having to find out for themselves? I would think not.
It has been suggested that if we want to know exactly what is happening in Maltby, then we should attend meetings to this end. I am currently attending many meetings, as this seems to be the only way of hearing and understanding what views and attitudes really are. But if I had wanted to attend every Town Council meeting and be so deeply involved with detail, I may as well have stood for election myself. All I expect as a resident of Maltby is to have the council which was democratically elected, to operate democratically, honestly and with the benefit of it’s people in mind. I do not want to have to decide whether to believe the old man or the donkey.

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