Tory Councillor Chivvies KITSON via Twitter
- an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD reporting on a Tory Borough Councillor’s very public attempt to hold a maverick Council Officer to account.
Readers of the Enquirer who are also denizens of the Twittersphere have been drawing my attention to a fascinating ‘thread’ that emerged during the course of the day and early evening of Thursday 1st February 2018.
To set the scene, the initiator of the ‘thread’ was SBC Councillor Michelle DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF [Con.>Ind.>Con.] (Hertford). Readers may recall that Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF was dismissed from the Cabinet by Leader Councillor Derek BASTIMAN [Con.] following an incident which took place in Hunmanby on Friday 2nd September 2016, while Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF was undergoing some sort of nervous breakdown.
Having recovered her health, Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF clearly remains sorely aggrieved at the way she was treated by certain representatives of Scarborough Borough Council.
Councillor Michelle DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF [Con.>Ind.>Con.]
Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF has apparently identified the actions of one of the four SBC Directors as having been in some way unconstitutional.
And she would appear to be not alone in her concerns, particularly as correspondence to Councillors by a member of the public corroborating and escalating her concerns have remained largely ignored – with the significant exception of a Tweet by Councillor Dilys CLUER [Green.], who also appears to have direct knowledge of the matter. I have every confidence in Councillor CLUER to ensure that the truth is not suppressed.
It now emerges that Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF must have lodged a Formal Corporate Complaint against a “senior officer” – i.e. a Director – which is to say, one of the following four individuals:
- Mr Jim DILLON, the Chief Executive Director and Head of Paid Service
- Mr Nick EDWARDS, the s.151 Officer and Finance Director
- Mrs Lisa DIXON, the Monitoring Officer and Legal & Democratic Services Director
- Mr Richard BRADLEY, Commercial Director
It is reasonable to dismiss Mr EDWARDS from the list; he had no involvement in Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF’s September 2016 misfortunes. Similarly, Mr BRADLEY is also out of the reckoning; he joined the Council long after the event. So the hot suspects are Jim DILLON and Lisa DIXON.
A Conservative Councillor lodging a Formal Corporate Complaint against a Director is a very rare event indeed. For such a disciplinary grievance to be played out in the public domain is almost unknown. It is reasonable to conclude that such a Complaint is unlikely to be frivolous; far more likely is it that Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF has confidence in her case.
Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF’s Tweets are reproduced in navy blue; the names and Twitter identities of her correspondents have been increasingly indented and respectively designated REDACTED 01, REDACTED 02 and REDACTED 03, thus colour-coded for ease of discernment. My comments are interploated in black type, within square brackets – thus […].
Thursday, 1st February 2018.
Michelle Donohue-M (@MichDonohue) tweeted at 10:26 am on Thu, Feb 01, 2018:
@ScarboroCouncil I put in a complaint about a senior officer on 24th Nov. 2017. Still not had a response. The deputy monitoring officer won’t respond to my emails. Please lodge a complaint for failure to comply with complaints procedure and lack of response to my emails DMO.
[DMO = Deputy Monitoring Officer, Mr David P. KITSON, who reports directly to the Monitoring Officer, Mrs Lisa DIXON, who in turn reports directly to the Chief Exec, Mr Jim DILLON.]
[REDACTED 01] (@redacted 01) tweeted at 11:18 am on Thu, Feb 01, 2018:
Wow, and you are still a Councillor too ? on @ScarboroCouncil That is shocking.
[REDACTED 01 is an experienced Council scrutineer. Implicit in the Tweet is the notion that Complaints from Councillors are granted more ‘traction’ than those from mere members of the public. Two-tier justice.]
Michelle Donohue-M (@MichDonohue) tweeted at 11:54 am on Thu, Feb 01, 2018:
Yes [redacted 02], I am still an elected member. It is against a Director so the Chief Executive would have to be involved. @ScarboroCouncil has rules for responding to Councillors which the Dep. Monitoring Officer is ignoring. Clearly knows he can do it without consequences.
[Clearly, at some point during the course of the afternoon, the social media watch-dogs at the Town Hall must have alerted Mr KITSON to the on-going ‘live’ public exposure of his apparent failure to adhere to Council policy requirements . . . Regrettably, I am not as present able to publish Mr KITSON’s response, for legal reasons. Whether or not Mr KITSON has responded to the original Formal Corporate Complaint, or has merely acknowledged this fresh Formal Corporate Complaint against himself (for disregarding protocol), is not yet in the public domain.]
Michelle Donohue-M (@MichDonohue) tweeted at 5:25 pm on Thu, Feb 01, 2018:
Guess what @ScarboroCouncil have just responded to my complaint! More on that soon. So if you want a response from SBC forget procedures just use Twitter! @TheScarboroNews @YorksCoastRadio #Scarborough #Whitby #Filey
[Having received what presumably must have been a less-than-satisfactory response by email (i.e. away from Twitter and the prying eyes of the public) from Mr KITSON, it is noteworthy that Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF now introduces a heads-ups to the press for the first time, effectively saying, “You try to hide it, David, and I will open it up even wider”.]
Michelle Donohue-M (@MichDonohue) tweeted at 5:35 pm on Thu, Feb 01, 2018:
Believe it or not the @ScarboroCouncil officer who responded to my complaint reports to the Director about whom the complaint was made! This approach is fundamentally flawed. Is this normal practice? @TheScarboroNews @YorksCoastRadio #Scarborough #Whitby #Filey
[This is truly astonishing; Mr KITSON reports directly to Mrs DIXON. There cannot be an institution in the country in which a Director may be investigated in respect of a Formal Corporate Complaint by an Officer junior to him/herself. To be clear, if the Formal Corporate Complaint was (as I suspect) against Mrs DIXON, then the sole appropriate Investigating Officer must be CEO Mr Jim DILLON. (If the Formal Corporate Complaint was against Mr DILLON, then the investigation would devolve to the body electorate). So how did this Complaint end up on Mr KITSON’s desk in the first place?]
A Relevant Digression
I must now interrupt the timeline of the Twitter ‘thread’ to recount something in my own knowledge which casts much-needed light on the sub-text to the ‘thread’ so far.
I have long harboured suspicions that there may have been a very grave breach of the Council’s Duty of Care in its handling of Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF’s breakdown in September 2016. These suspicions are based on her own published Statement and many conversations with her, and have been fortified by the public allegations referred to above and in a second article: “Sexist Bullying” Allegations – the Plot Thickens” (o3/01/18).
I wrote to Mrs DIXON at that time seeking an honest response to a public interest question:
On 22/09/2016 16:34, Nigel wrote:
Mrs Lisa DIXON – Director of Legal & Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer – Scarborough Borough Council
IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
I write to request an open and transparent response to the following question:
- On what date and at what time did you email your substantive response to Councillor Michelle DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF’s email of 8th September 2016 at 17:21:11 BST, requesting your advice/assistance ?
For the avoidance of any doubt, I do not refer to your emailed apology of 16:02 on Friday 9th September 2016.
Because this request is a test of your personal integrity, I await, with keen interest, your open and transparent response – for publication into the public domain.
Yours, with very kind regards,
It should be clear that I had reason to believe that Mrs DIXON had not responded to “cry for help” email of 8th September 2016. Her failure to respond to the test of her her integrity tells its own story.
All Mrs DIXON needed to do was either
(a) confirm that she had responded to Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF’s “cry for help” email of 8th September 2016 and identify when she did so – or respond to me stating her case for asserting that to do so would contravene the terms of the Data Protection Act 1998),
(b) admit that she had failed to respond to Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF’s “cry for help” email of 8th September 2016, which would have entailed an admission of a grievous breach of her Duty of Care to Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF. Had Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF’s attempt at suicide succeeded, Mrs DIXON’s conscience may have held her to account.
I should hope that, by now, readers will have inferred (correctly) that I have received no response from Mrs DIXON to my email – though I do know that she has read it; she sent me a read-receipt. But she has not found herself able to commit to either (a) or (b). Skewered.
The significance of my question is this: I hold a copy of the “cry for help” email sent by Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF’s to Mrs DIXON requesting her assistance, at the height of her crisis and whilst fighting a losing battle against her urges to end her own life. So distraught was she about the way she had been treated, in her hour of desperate need, by her colleagues in the Cabinet, chaired by Leader Councillor Derek BASTIMAN [Con.] and the SBC Conservative Group Leader, chaired by Councillor Joe PLANT [Con.], that she turned to Mrs DIXON for advice, like a drowning man to a straw.
Councillor BASTIMAN is a special case and will be addressed later in this article.
Councillor PLANT, for his part, will be leaving the Cabinet in May, when he begins his Mayoral duties. One might speculate over what could have prompted that move, coming as it did so soon after PLANT’s U-turn over the fresh allegations, from panicky denial to a gushing offer to ‘help with enquiries’. Bravo! He can turn tumbling tricks even with an ass balanced on his nose.
My strong suspicion is that Mrs DIXON ignored Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF’s email – whether on her own initiative or under instruction, I do not know.
Then, shortly before Christmas 2017, serious allegations were directed to all 50 SBC Councillors by a member of the public concerning alleged “sexist bullying” of Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF by, specifically, Councillor Leader Derek BASTIMAN [Con.] and Conservative Group Leader Councillor Joe PLANT [Con.], at a time when she was at her most vulnerable, due to her breakdown. I covered this in an article entitled “SBC: ‘Sexist Bullying’ Allegations Resurface” (22/12/17).
In the interest of fairness and a willingness to allow Mrs DIXON a further (albeit undeserved) opportunity to disclose the true sequence of events, I emailed her once more, on 27th December 2017 – fifteen months after my unanswered initial request:
On 27/12/2017 16:34, Nigel wrote:
Mrs Lisa DIXON – Director of Legal & Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer – Scarborough Borough Council
IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
Further to my investigation into the treatment accorded to Councillor Michelle DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF [Con.>Ind.>Con.] by Councillors Derek BASTIMAN [Con.] and Joseph PLANT [Con.] (and perhaps others) during September and October last year (2016), I find that I must press you for a prompt and definitive response to my email of 22nd September 2016, copied below for your convenience of reference. Clearly, the date and time of the transmission of an email does not entail any DPA issues. I would appreciate your response ahead of the Full Council meeting of 8th January 2018. Thank you.
I would also appreciate your explanation as to why you have ignored my email of 22nd September 2016, concerning, as it does, Duty of Care issues of the highest order, bearing in mind Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF’s (thankfully) unsuccessful attempts to take her own life.
For the avoidance of doubt, it is not my present intention to impute wrongdoing on your part in this matter; you have no personal reason to obscure the truth.
Please be aware that I will now forward this email to those elected members who exercise themselves with this matter, via their respective private email addresses.
There really are no prizes for guessing that, once again (and true to form), Mrs DIXON has not responded (though she did provide a read-receipt, the following day). And this is the woman who complained to me (28/03/13) about being denied ‘right of reply’. All equal under the law, eh? So there is your ‘right of reply’, Mrs DIXON. We are all ears.
I believe it is now fair to say that Mrs DIXON was indeed the most likely subject of Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF’s Formal Corporate Complaint, and I would venture the speculation that Mr KITSON has, under instruction, booted it into the long grass like the bought-and-paid-for ‘company man’ he is widely reputed to resemble. Never mind truth and integrity – it is ‘reputational management’ (and pensions) that matter in this sordid world of what is known amongst Scarborough Conservatives, I am told, as “the DDK doctrine” (presumably DILLON/DIXON/KITSON, whose methodology would appear to be to delegate responsibility (read ‘blame’) safely down the food-chain – even when a vulnerable person’s life is at stake. Accountability in reverse.
The Tweets (continued)
Returning now to the Twitter ‘thread’ of Thursday 1st February 2018:
[REDACTED 02] (@redacted 02) tweeted at 6:27 pm on Thu, Feb 01, 2018:
How utterly embarrassing and damaging to the reputation of @ScarboroCouncil if this is how Cllrs complaint a dealt with – what confidence can members of the public who complain have ? NONE #scarborough
[Tweeted by a former Conservative Councillor at a first-tier authority]
[REDACTED 02] (@redacted 02) tweeted at 6:10 pm on Thu, Feb 01, 2018:
Who in their right mind would charge an officer with investigating their boss? Can’t possibly be in accordance with @ScarboroCouncil complaint procedure Complants against Directors should be dealt with by different Director or CX especially one made by a Member Of The Council
[The former first-tier Councillor has a clear and accurate grasp of procedural requirements; Mr KITSON and his superiors at SBC clearly have not – or have chosen to ‘go rogue’, as is widely believed. If such is the case, the buck stops with ‘Silent’ Jim DILLON.]
Michelle Donohue-M (@MichDonohue) tweeted at 6:22 pm on Thu, Feb 01, 2018:
Totally agree an officer should never be put into such a situation. @ScarboroCouncil Chief Executive should have taken responsibility. @TheScarboroNews @YorksCoastRadio
[Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF, too, obviously has a comprehensive understanding of the Council’s protocols. It is interesting that she evinces some sympathy for Mr KITSON, who has been handed the hot potato.]
[REDACTED 02] (@redacted 02) tweeted at 6:24 pm on Thu, Feb 01, 2018:
Need to find out who instructed the Officer If it’s the Director the complaint is about it looks like a whitewash/cover up. If it’s the Monitoring Officer or CX then there is a clear competence issue. Not to mention disrespect towards our elected representatives.
[REDACTED 02] (@redacted 02) tweeted at 6:30 pm on Thu, Feb 01, 2018:
It’s astonishing where is the Council Leader in all this? they have a responsibility to ensure Member’s receive a prompt response from a Officers and that their complaints are dealt with properly and at the proper level. #Scarborough
[The Council Leader is Councillor Derek BASTIMAN [Con.], who is wisely keeping his head well below the parapet, no doubt on account of his central rôle in the “sexist bullying” allegations.]
[REDACTED 03] (@redacted 03) tweeted at 6:34 pm on Thu, Feb 01, 2018:
The Leader (Cllr Derek Bastiman) is a big part of the problem in #Scarborough. Not the solution, sadly.
[Tweeted by a NUJ investigative journalist.]
[REDACTED 02] (@redacted 02) tweeted at 7:00 pm on Thu, Feb 01, 2018:
Still it’s his job to ensure proper processes are upheld – if he does not want to do that and is content to have an officer-led free for all, covering up wrong doing and disrespecting our elected representatives – he should stand down or his group remove him.#Scarborough
This reference to an “officer-led free for all” accords closely with concerns raised by Councillor Tony RANDERSON [Lab.] and Councillor Janet JEFFERSON [Ind.] concerning Mr KITSON’s unlawful interception of emails between members of the public and elected Councillors. As to the Leader, he cannot be removed. He can resign. Or die. Or be convicted of a criminal offence and awarded a custodial sentence of six months or more. Otherwise, he stays. That is the so-called ‘Strong Leader and Appointed Cabinet’ model – pushed through by Mr DILLON, contrary to the public preference for an ‘Elected Mayor and Full Council’ model.
There are a number of tentative conclusions to be drawn from what might appear little more than a Twitterstorm-in-a-teacup;
- Councillor Michelle DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF [Con.] would appear to have a legitimate grievance against Mrs DIXON, who has seemingly disregarded Council protocol in regard to Duty of Care in her handling of the Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF’s September 2016 breakdown. Mrs DIXON has been unable, over the past 15 months, to provide any evidence to the contrary. She is looks like she is ducking the question. Why?
- Mrs DIXON would also appear to have passed Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF’s Formal Corporate Complaint against herself down the food-chain to her underling, David KITSON – rather than up the food-chain to Mr DILLON, in accordance with Council (and universal) protocols requiring Formal Corporate Complaints against Officers to be investigated by a more senior Officer; in this case, CEO Jim DILLON.
- Like me, Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF would appear to hold other evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Mrs DIXON. Having been left in the lurch, with her life in the balance, Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF is unlikely to let the matter rest. Quite rightly.
If the Chair of the Overview & Scrutiny Board (and Leader of the Opposition) Councillor Steve SIDDONS [Lab.] wishes to review my information, he has only to ask. If he has the integrity, he should also have the cojones. The Seventh Nolan Prinicple compels him to “challenge poor behaviour wherever it may arise”. And Mrs DIXON is not a figure to fear; she is merely a humble scrivener who has mislaid her humility and better judgement. But perhaps she, too, is a victim . . .
Finally – and returning to that Tweeted suggestion of the “officer-led free for all” – it should be remembered that Scarborough Borough Council (the body corporate) has a formal hierarchical structure. If the Directorate has lost sight of the fact that its statutory rôle is to serve the needs of the body electorate – our 50 elected Councillors – then the responsibility for each and every failure falls to one man, and one man alone – Mr James McGarvey DILLON, Scarborough Borough Council’s Chief Executive Officer and Head of Paid Service (Geddit, Jim? Service!) – the man whose public utterances seldom exceed a brief denial of having received any correspondence worthy of reporting to Full Council (for example, Trevor HARRINGTON’s letter formal allegations that Peter JACONELLI was a paedophile and/or Ben MARRIOTT’s letters alleging rampant fraud and corruption in the Assets division), and whose signature is seldom seen – unless on an electoral document signed in his quite separate capacity of Returning Officer for local and general elections. Seldom has a Chief Exec left so few fingerprints on his/her Council’s works and deeds spanning a twelve-year appointment.
Jim DILLON’s desk is where the buck finally stops and it is high time our Councillors drove it to its rightful destination. It is time Jim DILLON moved on. Only then can we look forward to a new ethos and a new era of openness, transparency and accountability in the Borough of Scarborough. That, at any rate, is my opinion.