It has been four years since I was first co-opted onto Creeting St Peter Parish Council, and I have since survived an election. Throughout that period I have consistently used this blog to fret about issues of financial control, accountability and communication, mostly without any sense that I can actually do anything to improve matters. And I have come to the realisation that this isn't working as I had hoped it might.
Like many small, rural, parish councils, mine is non-party political and, in truth, non-political in any sense that I recognise. In some ways, that presents no problem as most of our duties are obligatory ones - the grass must be cut, the street lights lit, that sort of thing. It isn't very exciting, but then the life of most elected officials isn't exactly glamorous.
However, there is the question of how a council operates, how it communicates and how it is accountable. This, to my mind, indicates the expression of an underlying philosophy about how a representative democracy works. And this, for anyone with a political philosophy, offers an interesting challenge.
As a liberal, I believe that I should be able to express my personal stance on any salient issue in my capacity as a councillor, respectful of the will of Council and of the decision of the majority. After all, every four years, I will be up for re-election and, potentially may have to compete to retain my seat. My electors have a right to know what I have done and why, should they be interested enough. That isn't a view that some elements of Parish Council are comfortable with, and they have made that abundantly clear, as is their right.
As a seasoned committee hand, I strongly believe that advance notice of council business makes us more efficient. It isn't mandatory that an individual councillor read their papers, but that by doing so, meetings can be more efficient and decisions made with the benefit of reflection. Again, that isn't to say that they will be, but it certainly can't hurt. The idea that I can turn up at a meeting, be presented with a list of cheques to be signed without any meaningful context in terms of in-year spending does leave me a bit nervous.
I do also believe in communicating with those who fund the activities of the Council. Our website states that meetings take place on the second Tuesday of every other month, except that they mostly don't, and no notice is given of them other than a notice on the Parish noticeboard. Given that 25% of the households in the Parish don't live in the village, and mostly have no reason to enter it, they are effectively excluded. Meetings are not announced on the Facebook page, the Twitter feed, or on the website. I am actively discouraged from distributing newsletters that are not official publications of the Parish Council, even if it is clearly stated that they are issued by me in my personal capacity.
In other words, Creeting St Peter Parish Council is not a place for someone with a philosophical world view like mine. That isn't to say that my colleagues are wrong, or stupid, or any other pejorative you might think of. We just don't agree and, as a democrat, I respect that.
So, what do I do? Do I continue in post, simply occupying the position rather than carrying out my duties and obligations as I perceive them, or continue to try to improve the way that the Council functions? I'm not minded towards the former, as it feels wrong to do so, and I'm weary of trying the latter. And 2015, when the next elections take place, is a long way away.
Life is, I've always felt, too short to be spent being even mildly frustrated, especially when there are plenty of other things to occupy my time that bring me satisfaction, or entertainment, or both. And so, earlier today, I tendered my resignation as a parish councillor. As a result, how replacement street lights are funded, or how the budget is balanced, or the minutiae of planning applications that Mid Suffolk's planning department will never enforce anyway are no longer my active problem, unless I should choose to take a casual interest. What I won't know won't annoy me.
Now, where are those barbecue tongs?...