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North Yorks Enquirer

WTC: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to D-I-Y Hole-Digging

December 26, 2014 Whitby Town

WTC: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to D-I-Y Hole-Digging

  • an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, reporting on the latest trickery from Whitby Town (Parish) Council. Pantomime season starts here.

~~~~~

I recently published an article entitled “WTC: Yet Another Data Security Breach”.

The “Yet Another” part of that title was a reference to the subject matter of a series of six articles – the “Backstabbers” series – describing how it came to pass that, in the autumn of 2013, the Clerk and Responsible Financial Officer of Whitby Town (Parish) Council had, without authorisation from her employers (the Council), removed digital data (including protected data of a confidential nature) from the Council Offices, prompting a still-unresolved round of accusations and counter-accusations that has been ripping the Council apart.

The “Data Security Breach” part of the title was a reference to a URL-link on the WTC web-site that should have secured the download of the Minutes to a Full Council Meeting in October 2014. But upon downloading the linked PDF document, entitled Full-Council-Minutes 9.10.14-8.pdf, I discovered that the document, though correctly labelled, actually contained a formal contractual Agreement between two third parties (i.e. neither of which is WTC) – a Mentor Agreement.

The document in question includes the names, signatures and email addresses of the two parties to the formal Agreement – Mr John FREEMAN, signing in his capacity as Chair of the Pannett Art Gallery (a charitable trust) and Ms Jennifer ALEXANDER of York (whose family name has appeared in the NYE several times of late).

The formal Agreement also contains personal career details of Ms ALEXANDER – a sort of ‘thumbnail’ curriculum vitae.

My initial reaction was one of disbelief. In the light of the recent row over the security of digital data at Whitby Town (Parish) Council, I struggled to believe my eyes. How could the Town Clerk (who is also the Responsible Financial Officer of WTC) have possibly been so incompetent as to breach the rights (under the Data Protection Act 1998 and other legislation) of Ms ALEXANDER and MR FREEMAN – especially the former, who is a member of the public with no position on the Council?

Unable to access the Council’s Complaints Procedure (the URL-link on the site is broken), I followed a hunch and made a direct approach to the Chair of Human Resources, Councillor Noreen WILSON. This was on 14th December 2014.

Though it is customarily the case that Formal Complaints must be acknowledged by return, and responded to within five working days, without access to the Council’s current Complaints Procedure document, I was unable to ascertain whether or not this customary acknowledgement period applies within the terms of the Council’s current Complaints Procedure.

I was of the opinion that Councillor Noreen WILSON’s well-known loathing of me (for having exposed her atrocious conduct in telling Nick HENDERSON – my fellow citizen-journalist – “You can shove your camera up your arse” at a Meeting of Full Council earlier in the year) may have prevented her from conducting the business of the Council in a professional manner.

So, having received neither acknowledgement nor response from Councillor Noreen WILSON by 17th December 2014, I emailed my four ward Councillors requesting their assistance.

Only two of my four ward Councillors have responded. I regard it is extremely disrespectful of the other two to evade their duty in that way and I will deal with that (and other matters) in due course – certainly before the elections.

Of the two who did respond, one very kindly copied me into an email to the Chair of Human Resources Councillor Noreen WILSON and the Town Mayor Councillor Heather COUGHLAN:

Dear Noreen, Heather,

I am unsure if our complaints policy was left as being addressed to the Chair of HR or the Mayor, so I am covering both bases. I believe the policy requires a written acknowledgement by return of a complaint made by a member of the public, I wonder if we could issue this along with a copy of the Complaints Procedure asap. I believe it important we deal with complaints in a prompt and professional manner.

Regards

At the time of writing, no response has been received by my ward Councillor. Far from evincing a “prompt and professional manner”, neither the Chair of Human Resources nor the Mayor would appear to have any manners at all. I think we knew that.

Only late in the afternoon of Friday 19th December 2014, did I receive an email from WTC, with the following letter attached (I wonder why it took two days for an email attachment to be forwarded to me?) –

NOREEN_WILSON_LETTER_191214

The Council’s Registered Data Controller is the Town Clerk – though, after five years in her position, she only enrolled as the Council’s Registered Data Controller in September 2014, and then only when I enquired whether or not she had ever done so.

Having already demonstrated that Councillor Noreen “You can shove your camera up your arse” WILSON falls well short, from a moral and ethical standpoint, of the standards that electors have every right to expect from public servants, I felt that it would be fair to reserve judgement on Councillor Noreen WILSON’s mental capacity, though this response has every appearance of having been written by someone for whom the intellectual challenges of public service have proved insurmountable.

So I paid a visit to the web-site of the Information Commissioner’s Office in order to be quite sure of what legally constitutes “personal data”, just in case my own conception was wildly amiss.

This is what I found:

PERSONAL_DATA

I am certain that Ms Jennifer ALEXANDER is “a living individual who can be identified”.

The information that passed through the WTC Office staff, led by the Town Clerk, Responsible Financial Officer and Registered Data Controller, is certainly sufficient to identify Ms Jennifer ALEXANDER – it includes her name, her signature, her email address and her thumbnail curriculum vitae. Admittedly, her shoe size has been omitted.

The fact that the Agreement (still downloadable via the Full-Council-Minutes 9.10.14-8.pdf URL-link) also includes “what is intended” for Ms Jennifer ALEXANDER – it exists specifically to define “what is intended” for Ms Jennifer ALEXANDER – leaves no room for doubt. This is personal data, alright. No question whatever.

Nor can it be argued that the personal data pertaining to Ms Jennifer ALEXANDER is merely “professional” information relating only to her professional functions; a few minutes on Google and Facebook suffice to confirm the fact that the personal data disclosed by the publication of the Agreement on the WTC web-site identifies her as “a living individual” – complete with photograph and friendship/acquaintanceship circle.

And yet the indications are that Ms Jennifer ALEXANDER has been persuaded otherwise. By whom?

JENNIFER_ALEXANDER

But Councillor Noreen “You can shove your camera up your arse” WILSON, “after investigation” has concluded that “no breach of personal data” has taken place and the Council’s Registered Data Controller (Mrs Pam DOBSON – the Town Clerk) has not acted “contrary to the Council’s policy on data protection”. What utter rubbish.

And what “investigation”, by the way? I look forward to sight of a written report detailing the nature and extent of Councillor Noreen WILSON’s so-called “investigation”. I expect it to prove non-existent.

So I re-visited the WTC web-site (yes; the ‘leaked’ Agreement is still there) to check out the Council’s Data Protection Policy.

No joy. 404 Not Found message:

Data_Protection_Policy_URL

And it probably goes without saying that the Complaints Procedure, too, is still unavailable – another 404 Not Found message:

Complaints_Procedure_URL

So, one way or another, we are faced with the concern that the Chair of Human Resources may stand in dereliction of her duties, as defined in the Council’s current Complaints Procedure – which has not been provided to me, so we are unable to determine whether or not such is the case.

Fortunately, though, I do have a copy of the Council’s 6th April 2010 Complaint’s Procedure. It has yet to be updated to accommodate the requirements of the Localism Act 2011, so it is (and remains) the Council’s current Complaints procedure, until such time as it is superceded.

CPBG

How gratifying to note that, back in 2010, the Council aspired to discovering “its faults” and “poor performance” in order to improve its service. Opportunities continue to abound.

The following Items are of special interest:

CP5

On receipt of the complaint, the Chair of Human Resources made no attempt whatsoever to settle the complaint directly with the complainant”me. In fact, she never even acknowledged my Formal Complaint or responded in any way until she handed down the ludicrous “conclusion” of her “investigation”.

CP6

Since no efforts at all were made “to resolve the complaint at this stage”, it will be interesting to see what distortion of the truth Councillor Noreen WILSON will present “to the next meeting of the Human Resources Committee”.

Heigh-ho! More grist to the mill.

CP7

My Formal Complaint most definitely has not been resolved.

I have, of course, submitted an Appeal. So I look forward to accepting the opportunity provided under the Complaints Procedure to address the Human Resources Committee directly.

I shall also avail myself of the right to take a Complaint Friend along with me. Perhaps Councillor Derek ROBINSON, who has himself had considerable justification to take issue with the Town Clerk’s handling of personal data, would be willing to accompany me – if only to satisfy himself that the HR Chair and the Town Clerk are operating within the rules?

CP14

I wonder how many readers anticipate that the Council will tender an apology to me? Or to Ms Jennifer ALEXANDER? Or even to Mr John FREEMAN?

And what steps can we expect the Council to take “to prevent similar errors occurring in the future”? Surely, abiding by its own rules would suffice?

And I have strong reason to believe that Councillor Noreen WILSON (or someone acting on her behalf) may have sought the retrospective consent of Ms Jennifer ALEXANDER and Mr John FREEMAN to display their formal Agreement in the public domain on the Council web-site – retrospective, that is, with a view to contriving a get-out for the Town Clerk, whose advice she may well also have sought as to how best to side-step my Formal Complaint. That would amount to collusion with the Defendant – perhaps even having been actively advised (read “instructed”) by the Defendant.

In fact, I am concerned that Ms Jennifer ALEXANDER may have been deliberately misled into believing that the disclosure of her personal data does not constitute a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998 – persuaded, perhaps, on the grounds that the disclosed data is ‘only’ of a professional rather than a personal nature,  in the hope of permitting it to be ‘deemed’ exempt on that basis from the requirements of the DPA. But such is not the case, as the ICO has made clear.

Or perhaps it is the case that Ms ALEXANDER simply prefers not to ‘rock the boat’ with her new career partner, the Pannett Art Gallery? It is not unknown for principle to fall by the wayside when self-interest is at stake.

I find it curious, too, that neither the Chair of Human Resources nor the Mayor has acknowledged or responded to my ward Councillor. In my view, neither has responsded because there is no plausible response to be made – other than to thank my ward Councillor and do as bidden; i.e. provide me with an acknowledgement, a response and a copy of the Complaints Procure.

Taken together, these circumstances give rise to a compelling suspicion that there may be collusion afoot between certain members of the Council seeking to subvert the terms of the Complaints Procedure in regard to my Formal Complaint for no other reason than that it is my Formal Complaint – rather than that of any other member of the public – because I am the one who attempts to hold them accountable for their conduct as public servants.

I could be wrong about this – and readers may disagree with me – but the prospect of collusion is a very serious contingency indeed. It is discriminatory and an abuse of position; it will not go unaddressed.

In summation, the present circumstances are such that it is beyond question that the private third party Agreement has been published on the WTC web-site, albeit under the wrong title (presumably in error), and that the Minutes of the 9th October 2014 Meeting of Full Council have not been published at all.

The Chair of Human Resources claims to have “investigated”, and yet has failed to discover the easily obtained facts that I have presented here, and which readers can verify for themselves in a matter of a few minutes.

Either she is as thick as the proverbial planks, or she is wittingly subverting the Council’s Complaints Procedure – in order, perhaps, to protect the Town Clerk from sanction; which would be a profoundly corrupt act. But several Councillors are already concerned that the Town Clerk is in the process of laying a paper-trail to support a claim for ‘constructive dismissal’, for which there exists a precedent.

One wonders what would have been so difficult for the Chair of Human Resources in taking the rational and reasonable approach; to respond to me by conceding:

  1. that the Town Clerk had indeed made an unfortunate but inadvertent error, which had now been rectified (by replacing the wrongly-published Agreement with the missing and unpublished October Minutes);
  2. that an apology had been made to Ms Jennifer ALEXANDER and to Mr John FREEMAN, and to me and;
  3. that the Council wished to express its gratitude to me for having pointed out the Town Clerk’s unfortunate error.

It is a simple enough formula:

  1. Own up;
  2. Rectify;
  3. Apologise.

That would have been the honourable course of action – a simple exercise in accountability; alas, a concept all too alien to many of our public servants.

Whitby is a fine town. Whitby deserves a fine Council. The present Council is costing Whitby £¼-million per annum and is most definitely not a fine Council – it is excruciatingly useless.

If Whitby wants a fine Council, it will have to turn out and elect one next May. That is the democratic way – the only way – to weed out the dead wood, the liars and the abject fools – fools who do not realise that their Declaration (or “Oath”) of Acceptance of Office is a legally binding document. (See below).

SCHEDULE

Article 2

DECLARATION OF ACCEPTANCE OF OFFICE

I [1] having been elected to the office of [2] of [3] declare that I take that office upon myself, and will duly and faithfully fulfil the duties of it according to the best of my judgement and ability. I undertake to observe the code as to the conduct which is expected of members of [4].

Signed

Date

This declaration was made and signed before me,

Signed

Proper officer of the council (5).

(1) Insert the name of the person making the declaration.

(2) Insert “member” or “Mayor” as appropriate.

(3) and (4) Insert the name of the authority of which the person making the

declaration is a member or mayor.

(5) Where the declaration is made before another person authorised by

section 83(3) of the Local Government Act 1972, state instead the capacity in

which that person takes the declaration.

WILSON_COUGHLAN

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