star chamber

It's a kangaroo court.

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Copyright © 2018, Michael M Wayman

I looked out the window from my town hall office and saw this idiot getting cold and wet in the fountains. What could I do? I could get the fountains turned off or so I thought. I went to the maintenance department and asked them. “Oh yes, fill out these forms and perhaps after several meetings, perhaps six months, it may be possible.”

I went down to the cellar, found a switch labelled ‘The Golden Girls’ and pressed it. At least the idiot is not getting any wetter now.

It was my second day as the mayor of Bigtown, I was learning, I was meeting people. I had a copy of the town hall organigram, which showed where everyone was in the organisation – unfortunately it was out of date. It did show however the four main departments and the mayor and his small group of helpers at the top.

And small it was – the group consisted of my secretary (PR-assistant and organiser and girl Friday), a part-time archivist, the comptroller (finance stuff) and the town clerk (legal stuff).

Unfortunately the comptroller and town clerk positions were empty – the two old guys had retired with the change of mayor. However my secretary and the archivist were very helpful, unlike the four heads of department.

Having seen the young man in the fountains grasping one of the nymphs’ bottoms and getting very wet and cold I decided to have the fountain pumps turned off. I entered the office of the head of the maintenance department and... “Possibly a good idea, five forms need to be filled out and of course five meetings – about six months. I’ll arrange for the forms to be sent to your office.”

I said thank you, though I could have told him to jump out of the window. Six months and the pumps would be turned off to prevent frost damage in winter. I went down to the cellar and found a door marked “Switch Room”. I entered a room full of large grey cabinets and a young guy mending an electric kettle. In a corner was a stack of urinals, water closets and washbasins.

“Essential piece of equipment this, it belongs to your secretary, she makes your tea with it. The golden girls you ask. Really easy. Open this cabinet door and push the switch marked ‘The Golden Girls’ and the pumps will stop. However I can’t do it without a signed FORM 133A or I’ll get into trouble.”

I pushed the switch. It was obvious that he did not have enough to do, I’d seen him several times talking to my secretary. I thanked him for mending the kettle and returned to my office.

I looked out of my fourth-floor window again, the young idiot was still there, but the fountains had stopped – good! I didn’t know what I had started – it was going to end badly for some.

I’ve spent most of my life in Bigtown, my family is here, I’ve been successful, I wanted to try something new. The old mayor, my predecessor, had been in office for twenty-five years; and in that time the local taxes had been raised many times, but nothing new had been done in Bigtown, no new roads, buildings, projects or such stuff – in fact Bigtown had got shabbier and shabbier.

So I got elected mayor to find out what had happened, especially to the money. That’s what I told everybody and that’s why I got elected – the old mayor was so surprised, perhaps he thought he had a job for life.

It was pinned onto every notice board – there was no way I could enter the town hall that morning and not see the announce­ment from the ‘Dis­cipli­nary Com­mit­tee’. It was printed in big letters, perhaps for the hard of seeing. Somebody, somebody unnamed, had executed an unauthorised order, operating an electrical switch connected to a pump.

It was unforgivable; the offending person must be found, reprimanded and possibly terminated. It was signed by the four members of the ‘ Dis­cipli­nary Com­mit­tee’.

This was two steps too far, obviously everyone in the town hall knew who had operated that switch – me. Some Com­mit­tee, that wasn’t on the organigram chart, didn’t have the right to fire anyone or even recommend the firing and certainly not to fire the mayor. The mayor was elected by the people or voted out by the people. The Lord Mayor in Big City also had special powers that were seldom used.

On my way I noticed a door marked ‘Dis­cipli­nary Com­mit­tee’ on the top floor. It was locked, but I had a master key. It had no windows being in the middle of the building, two entrance doors and was where the toilets should have been. There were no stars on the ceiling.

What was the ‘Dis­cipli­nary Com­mit­tee’? I needed to know. The archivist was not in his office. I decided to ask a legal expert from outside the town hall, to ambush that person in the middle of the night and demand an explanation.

kangaroo 1

“What is the ‘Dis­cipli­nary Com­mit­tee’ in the town hall and what does it do? Darling?” My wife is a workplace lawyer.

“I thought you’d never ask. It’s a kangaroo court set up by the four department heads to control all the staff in the town hall. They persuaded the mayor, your predecessor to set it up 24 years ago – he would do anything for a bit of peace and quiet.”

“Each of the department heads has a stooge who sits in the ‘Dis­cipli­nary Com­mit­tee’ and just does what his department head wants. Anyone in the town hall who does anything the department heads don’t like is sent to the ‘Dis­cipli­nary Com­mit­tee’ for a bad time.”

“I have represented several clients in court who have suffered under this so-called ‘Dis­cipli­nary Com­mit­tee’ and have won every time. And you know why? There is no such thing as a ‘Dis­cipli­nary Com­mit­tee’ in the regulations and the mayor cannot delegate Dis­cipli­nary actions. It exists only because of a mayor’s decree.”

“Good morning, gentlemen. And welcome to my first weekly meeting.” The four departmental heads were there and my secretary was taking the minutes.

“First we have the four department reports and then I have two small points. I have another appointment in 90 minutes, so please keep it short.”

The head of the maintenance department rambled on about... Well, I don’t know, I didn’t listen, it sound deadly uninteresting.

I stood and interrupted after 80 minutes. “Thank you, thank you. My first point concerns the ‘Dis­cipli­nary Com­mit­tee’. I understand that it was brought into being by the decree of the previous mayor, my predecessor. I decree that the ‘Dis­cipli­nary Com­mit­tee’ be disbanded as of noon on this date.”

“The departmental heads did not like that, I should definitely reconsider my decision. “A letter of notification has been sent to all the local lawyers, the media and others. I posted the letters myself, they will arrive tomorrow morning.” No recon­sideration on my part.

“My second point. Those who served on the ‘Dis­cipli­nary Com­mit­tee’ will return to their previous jobs and salaries. And the room on the top floor will revert to its planned use as toilets. No form-filling required, the plans already exist, the white-ware is stored in the Switch Room in the cellar.”

“I expect results within days. But now I must go – an interview with an applicant for the position of town clerk. I’m not surprised that the last town clerk left after waiting 24 years to go to the toilets.” The departmental heads did not look happy.

I noticed that the Golden Girls were now idiot-free and made a mental note to visit the Switch Room and also to rip the ‘Dis­cipli­nary Com­mit­tee’ door signs off before going home.

It was loud. I soon discovered why. There was a cloud of white dust coming out of the ‘toilets’. There was a large guy wearing protection mask, muffs and goggles drilling holes at random in the concrete floor with a huge electric drill. I pulled the plug and the noise stopped.

I asked what he was doing. I asked him if what he was doing was stupid. I asked him if what he was doing was meant to annoy people. I asked him to stop and go away. He went away.

Did I go to the head of the maintenance department and complain? No, I used my right as mayor to hire an outside company to do emergency work up to a certain sum of money. New toilets guaranteed in two days.

I got a phone call from a friend who worked in the Lord Mayor’s office in Big City. He congratulated me on my election to mayor in Bigtown. I told him about my first week and the ‘Dis­cipli­nary Com­mit­tee’. He laughed. “That was a good move and... I’ve just had an idea. I’ll call you back in five minutes.”

Ten minutes later, “I was right, there’s been no external audit in the Bigtown town hall for over 24 years. Every five years is normal. In 24 years some things bad must have happened. I’ve contacted one of the big four accounting companies and they’re sending one of their SWAT teams to your town hall at six on Monday morning.”

“Great! I’ll be there to open the doors to the town hall at six on Monday morning.”