Fringe Box



Opinion: Can We Handle the Truth?

Published on: 7 Oct, 2012
Updated on: 12 Oct, 2012

From the film A Few Good Men by Columbia Pictures

By Martin Giles

“You can’t handle the truth!” says Col. Jessep played by Jack Nicholson in the film A Few Good Men.

It seems that this might have been the motto by some in the council offices at Millmead in recent times. Whether it was suspending a strategic director, the decision on the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra or the handling of a town ‘masterplan’, it appears that the council has sometimes felt we should only be told what is good for us.

Real engagement and communication with the residents seems to have been regarded as a tick box exercise. Something where the minimum is done to comply with rules rather than something done wholeheartedly, as part of real democracy.

It is tempting for councillors to think that the electorate are not bright enough, knowledgeable enough or interested enough to understand issues. But it is a temptation they must resist.

There is too much apathy around but that should mean that councillors redouble their efforts to engage constituents, not give up trying to do so, imagining we should not trouble our little heads. If things are complicated, they should be explained: if something is outside the council’s control, it should be admitted and if a mistake has been made, it should owned up to.

The rest of us should take our individual responsibilities seriously too, express our views and use our votes carefully, having found out what the candidates are intending to do about the local issues of the day. We can hardly complain if we can’t even be bothered to do that.

The council, as a whole, must live up to the core values written on every set of council papers. One of them is: “The Council’s work will be publicly accountable and presented with openness and transparency.”

This means more than publishing a plethora of documents, admirable though that might be, on their maze-like website.

It means answering questions honestly, completely and promptly.

It means installing a system of recording and broadcasting council meetings, as they have in Mole Valley, to make meetings more accessible and recording councillor votes properly recorded so that constituents can see how their councillors have voted individually (they already have the equipment to do this, for goodness sake).

And it means taking major decisions in full council where all councillors have a chance to speak, not taking them behind closed doors, in exclusive groups, or just in the eight person Executive.

We have a new regime at Millmead now. A fresh start. There are difficult and complex challenges ahead. The council must explain and communicate. We might forgive them taking decisions with which we don’t individually agree. We should not forgive them not telling us what they are really doing or for failing to ask us what we think.

We need to be able to handle the truth because it is not just theirs it is ours.

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Responses to Opinion: Can We Handle the Truth?

  1. Sally Parrot

    October 8, 2012 at 10:04 am

    Following this important opinion piece, may I suggest that more residents attend council meetings. The next is on Thursday (11 October) at 7pm, and the agenda can be found at: