Mrs Wilcox has been a frequent visitor to Ledbury of late. She has been providing welcome advice to the town council in the prosecution of its moral crusade against bullying and harassment by some of its recalcitrant members.
The really super thing about Lynda is her great flexibility and versatility. In the cauldron of parish politics, especially if you're in a tight spot, she's the go-to woman in Herefordshire. When under fire she keeps an ice-cool head, and is able calmly to explain, without sounding at all confrontational or patronising, exactly what is, and what is not. "Your Council will decide... " is one of her favourite mantras, always said with grave emphasis on the 'your'.
Let it be said that Mrs Wilcox is renowned for her quicksilver intelligence, swift to recognise the most subtle of distinctions, so that what might appear to be contradictory at first, is in point of fact, a logically ineluctable truth; a comma here, a word there. Sorted! As a mere consultant to town clerks, her forensic legal skills are truly wasted. What a shame that she never did fulfill her lawyerly calling - even though it would have been to Herefordshire's detriment.
At one of its many acrimonious committee meetings, Ledbury town councillors resolved that it would not be appropriate to have Lynda Wilcox provide administrative and advisory support concerning an 'employment matter'. There was talk of a conflict of interests and a lack of impartiality; such calumnies; how unkind.
Worry not, she told her protégé, the fretting town clerk Mrs Karen Mitchell and her supplicant councillor friends.
In a procedural gavotte of outstanding grace, the lady simply recommended that the 'employment matter' be taken off said committee and given to the whole council to consider. The main thing then was to ensure that said committee would not be convened until the 'employment matter' was concluded with the banning and denunciation of the two bullying councillors concerned. The grateful smiles of Mayor Annette Crowe and her Deputy Keith Francis told their own story. 'Your council can do exactly what it wants,' she reassured them in her distinctive creamy voice. 'There's not a thing they can do.'
Distinguished Tory lady.
Don't be deceived by Lynda's quietly dulcet tones. Her professional hand of steel and head of ice has been behind the rise of her well-known husband, Cllr Brian Wilcox, Chairman of Herefordshire Council, bastion of the local Tory establishment and something very high up in the Freemasons, a grand wizard or some such. (Apologies if I have the title wrong; I am hazy on the ways of the Masons). As such La Wilcox, has become a qua personage hereabouts, consorting regally with the County Lieutenant Dowager Lady Darnley, the Bishop and other local luminaries. Kremlin-watchers say that it isn't so much the ceremonials that she relishes, but more the heady nip of political influence that fires her up.
No wonder that Mrs Wilcox has emerged as a thought-leader among the national network of county umbrellas like HALC, a true maven of clerks and clerking. As the National Association of Local Council's chair of the parish council forum, she is able to draw on best practice from all and sundry, as well as promote causes dear to her heart.
Minutes are a particular bugbear. Why do people continue to flesh out meeting reports with key points of discussion and contextual detail, when everyone knows that the baldest of accounts is perfectly adequate, indeed, preferable? Lynda has learned well the pitfalls of putting too much in writing. She is always careful to provide verbal advice to parish clerks on procedural and governance matters but never in writing. Any two-bit solicitor will tell you that! The less you commit to the record, the less argument can there be about accuracy. In this way, Mrs Wilcox and her clients, often remain gloriously unimpeachable.
Actually, Lynda's ideal minutes would say nothing at all, and sometimes they don't. Like those fleeting quantum particles which both exist and don't exist at the same time, Mrs Wilcox's meeting reports challenge conventional notions of ontological understanding.
When it comes to agreeing the accuracy of minutes in committee meetings, she has been firm in stressing that it is only what is written that can be subject to debate. Things that are left out, are not strictly inaccuracies and therefore shouldn't be open to challenge. This much, to impressive effect, Ledbury's Town Clerk has learnt from her alma mater.
At that awful meeting where she was cashiered, such minutes as were eventually produced by Mrs W omitted the inconvenient detail that she had been let go. This meant that fortunately for all concerned, most Ledbury town councillors had no idea that the unkind, hurtful and frankly damaging allegations about her lack of objectivity had ever been raised. Months of tiresome wrangling eventually revealed that there were in fact two sets of minutes for that meeting: an 'official' one in the public record, and a 'confidential' one, yet to be written, where all the missing information would be detailed.
Stone the crows, but when Lynda was finally compelled to write up the confidential version, they still didn't mention that she had been given her marching orders by the committee! Councillors pressed her on why she had not included the missing resolution concerning her discontinued employment by Ledbury Town Council and she said: because that's what I did. Next?
It isn't just Ledbury's minutes that defy the laws of physics. Lynda's riverine approach to the public record is as sinuous as a slippery trout coursing its watery way up and down the county. In the quiet Wyeside village of Hampton Bishop (where she is parish clerk: how does she make the time?) minutes of parish council meetings might or might not be produced or at least posted on the council's website: who can say? As of today, the last published minutes appear to be those for 24 November 2016, and the last draft minutes for the January 2017 meeting.
A local resident drew attention to the parish council's non-compliance with the Transparency Code recently introduced for first-tier councils. He said mischievously: 'One might suggest that the Clerk (Mrs W) should be sent on one of the Transparency courses being run by HALC, but that would clearly be worthless because they are being run by the Clerk's alter ego (Mrs W)'. Ho, ho.
Who's the mug?
Evidence of involvement in rancourous situations is rare in the usually serene Wilcox universe. Some years ago, an elderly parish councillor got into hot water over the purchase of china mugs to be given to local school children to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Flouting strict financial procedures, the well-meaning gent paid £390 in advance to a local market trader so as to ensure they'd be ready in time for the big day. So outraged were Little Dewchurch parish council at this unlawful breach of financial procedures, that they called in HALC to investigate.
As reported by the Daily Mail, "Lynda Wilcox said: ‘When you’re dealing with public money you need to debate the issue at hand as a council before you agree to spend the money. On this occasion an individual spent money without prior agreement and then expected the council to pay him back. Procedures were not followed.’ She said allowing a retrospective payment to Mr Sainsbury would amount to the council condoning what had happened and would set a precedent for the future. She added: ‘The mugs are his to do with what he wants to do.’" Quite so.
This is a fine example of one of those thrilling reality flips in which quicksilver Lynda is so adept. A retrospective £390 for Jubilee mugs is clearly unlawful and so morally unacceptable that the gentleman responsible should resign. Yet in Ledbury under her tutelage just last year, a good few thousand quid was committed for legal advice to fortify Ledbury's drive on bullying; this was many months before the Council had been consulted on whether it wanted to spend so much.
The critical difference is in the philosophical underpinning of the two situations; it all comes down to questions of moral obligation, mutual loyalty and higher purpose. As any upright Freemason would attest, these aspects can easily supersede the mundane legalities when needed. So befitting of this doyen of Herefordshire conservatism, Lynda Wilcox is imbued with that fiery righteous spirit of the Knights Templar, our county's illustrious crusaders of yore.
What, still no gong?
Back to earth, on her website, HALC is described as 'the only specialist source of insurance backed information & advice for your Parish Council. Without HALC, obtaining robust insurance-backed advice for the benefit of your council can be difficult & costly... the only specialist source of insurance backed information & advice for your Parish Council.'
Once more with feeling, she continues: 'Without HALC obtaining robust insurance-backed advice for the benefit of your council can be difficult & costly.' Gracious, how could anyone resist this remarkable outfit, buttressed by so much insurance-backed advice? Notice the paucity of punctuation: a small legal tic. The ampersands too are all hers, a useful timesaver.
It seems that Ledbury Town Council could soon be drawing freely on HALC's insurance-backers. The council is about to embark on a long court adventure fighting Cllr Liz Harvey's wholly unwarranted Judicial Review into her 'alleged banning'. Central to the case will be Mrs Wilcox's insurance-backed advice.
When the lady emerges triumphant from this imbroglio as all respectable people sincerely hope, surely it won't be long before she receives her invitation to the Palace? A little bauble perhaps, but it's so nice to be appreciated.