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Vexatious Policy Implemented!

Posted on 12th March, 2017

UPDATE 23 MAR 2017

 

Unfortunately rather than try to develop a positive mutual working relationship, BPC has chosen to further invoke its vexatious policy against BOB, seemingly to avoid supplying information to the public/us until at least 18 Sep 17! It seems our simple requests for information may have contributed to the resignations of Cllrs Gutsell, Cllr Gibbon and the Clerk before we have received an explanation as to why our queries are deemed 'unreasonable or unacceptable'; or why BPC are 'unable' to send information to us; or why BPC has acted the way it has towards us in public. Definitely a case of deja vu...!

 

---

POSTED 12 MAR 2017

 

It seems that BPC really do not want the public to know what they are doing, or not doing, as the public's elected representatives.

 

In response to BOB's public inquiry queries and request for a copy of the Parish Plan BPC started making negative and incorrect public statements. Last month, Feb 2017 they publicly declared they had enacted their vexatious policy yet wrote to us stating they were 'informally' writing to us? From our perspective there is no clear reason as to why our requests for information are considered 'unreasonable or unacceptable' or why BPC is 'unable' to answer them.

 

The Clerk has however informed us on March 2 that he will "not be replying further" to our response email regarding our concerns. We also note from the public Mar 2017 Agenda that BPC are now considering invoking their policy further rather than discuss our email with us; or the validity or implementation of their draft policy.

 

BOB will of course keep you updated, and publish a copy of the Parish Plan and/or BPC's view of Bleadon's future if/when we receive a response. Also any policy updates.

 

---

 

CORRESPONDENCE WITH BPC IN RELATION TO IMPLEMENTATION OF VEXATIOUS POLICY

 

From: Cllr GUTSELL 
Sent: 18 May 2017 15:07
To: Bleadon Bob
Cc: Tony Jay; Cllr CHINN
Subject: Bleadonb Parish Council
 

Dear Chris and Jo, 

  

The Vexatious Committee has met and discussed the contents of your last email. Please find below answers to two new questions which were raised in your email. 

  

Web contact details of North Somerset Council Standards Board are 

https://www.n-somerset.gov.uk/my-council/complaints/complaining-about-councillors/

  

New members of the Vexatious Committee will be appointed  at a Parish Council meeting in due course. 

  

Yours Sincerely, 

Claire Gutsell 

Chair Bleadon Parish Council

 

From: Bleadon BOB
Sent: 10 April 2017 12:53
To: Bleadon Parish Clerk
Cc: Cllr Gutsell; Cllr Clarke; Cllr Gibbon; Cllr Hartree; Cllr Chinn
Subject: Re: Formal notice
 
Dear Tony,
We are replying to your email below in order to try and conclude this issue before key individuals resign from BPC. We believe last years' resignations, and our unresolved access to information and website complaint issues, have contributed to this current situation.
We have reviewed the correspondence and disagree with BPC's decision to invoke its draft vexatious policies and feel that its public implementation and portrayal of 'two parishioners' in its publicly distributed minutes highly inappropriate and misleading; we feel that the historical context and background needs public explanation. BPC has indicated that it finds lengthy correspondence hard to process so we have summarised some key issues from our perspective and listed our queries below.
Issues
The sub-committee recommended to invoke their draft vexatious complaint policies against two residents for asking for a copy of parish plan, to be urgently submitted to the Bleadon Hill public Inquiry, to meet the imminent deadlines; along with other associated queries. BPC chose not to respond within the deadline or to present at the Inquiry, either directly or indirectly, and did not supply a copy of the Parish Plan for us/the public to submit either. To date BPC has decided not to publish a copy of the adopted 2009 Parish Plan to the public. We believe BPC has issued contradictory statements to the public and we have asked for clarification. In response BPC has not publicly clarified the issues, ignored their adopted published vexatious policy and implemented two draft versions against us instead.
It should be noted that on 6 Jan 2017 BPC told us they couldn't find a Parish Plan yet three days later, on 9 Jan 2017, BPC told the public that they had a copy that they tried to submit to the Inquiry using a different approach to that advised by North Somerset professional officers. This is the same meeting that BPC publicly stated they were invoking their vexatious policy against us and incorrectly stated they had done so before. At no point have we been asked or invited to discuss these issues, which to us clearly demonstrates BPC does not want a positive relationship with us as residents, or as the community website BOB, despite its previous statements and/or resolutions.
Queries
  1. We ask that BPC amend, correct, reword, clarify their public statements especially those from January to March 2017 relating to us in a manner more befitting publicly elected representatives and to more accurately reflect the facts.
  2. Please can BPC confirm that they follow the NALC Good Councillor and/or LGA Councillor Guides and/or the Nolan Principles?
  3. As two of the three councillors immediately submitted their resignation after their recommendation, along with the clerk, please can BPC tell us who will comprise the 'new' sub-committee? 
  4. BPC states that "You are advised that the decision will be reviewed in six months ..." Does this mean that BPC will not provide the public/us with a copy of the Parish Plan, or supply a public response regarding its status, or state its intentions for the Parish of Bleadon for another six months?
  5. Regardless of BPC's implementation of this vexatious policy please can BPC clearly and publicly explain to its electorate, which includes us, the who, what, when, where and how of the missing Parish Plan and BPC's plan for the future of Bleadon, and send us a copy of the adopted Parish Plan as indicated in the 2009 and 2017 BPC minutes?
  6. Please send us contact details for ALCA so that we can discuss BPC's use of unadopted policies further with them? 
  7. Please confirm what legal process took place for the vexatious sub-committee as we would like to discuss the expected process with ALCA/NALC and/or another knowledgeable organisation. If a legal process did take place, please tell us what, when and how as BPC usually sends all meeting agenda to BOB to publicise for residents' attention?
  8. Please send us the outstanding information relating to step 2.2 of the first draft vexatious policy so that we, and others, can try to understand how BPC came to this vexatious conclusion under the given circumstances ? 
  9. Please send us the outstanding requested information relating to steps 3.1 and 3.2 of the two draft vexatious policies as soon as possible as we would like to discuss with knowledgeable bodies whether BPC have used approved/recommended public communication practices e.g. ignoring public requests, publicly declaring one thing yet privately another, processes followed/not followed, use and content of minutes, etc.
  10. Please send us a copy of the original vexatious invocation letter as requested by us on 20 Jan 2017, we are still at the same address that the previous clerks would have sent correspondence.
This whole unnecessary affair has had a detrimental effect on our individual and family well being, something that we would not want other members of the public to experience, therefore please send us contact details for the North Somerset Council stands (sic) board for complaints as indicated in your email below.
Regards,
Chris Butler & Jo Gower-Crane
twitter: @bleadon
facebook: BleadonBOB

 

From: Tony Jay <parishclerk@bleadonparishcouncil.gov.uk>

Sent: 19 March 2017 11:58

To: Bleadon BOB

Subject: Formal notice

 

Good morning Mr Butler and Ms Gower-Crane,

 

Bleadon Parish Council considered the email that I received from you on 2nd  March (sent on 1st March) at their meeting on Monday.

 

It was resolved that point 3.2 of the Vexatious Correspondence and Complaints Policy should be invoked as the following sections of the policy have been breached:

 

1.1   Behaviour which is obsessive, persistent, harassing, prolific, repetitious

The email received on 2nd March is considered to be part of a chain of persistent emails.

 

1.5 Repeated and/or frequent requests for information, whether or not those requests are made under the access to information legislation.

 

Repeated emails have been received requesting information.  The email received on 2nd March is the latest in this series.

 

I attach a copy of the policy which the Parish Councillors have decided was breached.

 

You have previously raised the point that this policy is not valid, as it does not include the amendment that the Parish Councillor’s agreed in March 2016.  I have taken advice from ALCA, who advise that the amendments would not have made any difference to the sections of the policy that you have breached, and so the implication of the policy is valid.

 

Any future correspondence will be passed directly to the sub-committee who will consider whether it raises any substantive new issue(s). You are advised that if no substantive new issue is raised, any future correspondence will not receive a response. You are advised that the decision will be reviewed in six months from the date of the letter advising them that their complaint/correspondence has been determined to be vexatious. There is no route of appeal against the decision that a complaint or correspondence is vexatious.

 

The Vexatious Correspondence and Complaints policy refers to the requirement that I send letter to you.  Please provide me with an address to send the letter.

 

If you do not accept this decision then you should submit a complaint to the North Somerset Council stands board, not to the Parish Council.

 

Kind regards

 

Tony Jay

 

Parish Clerk

-----------------

 

From: Tony Jay <parishclerk@bleadonparishcouncil.gov.uk>

Sent: 02 March 2017 12:29

To: 'Bleadon BOB Community Website'

Subject: RE: Bleadon Parish Council

 

Hi Chris and Jo,

 

I acknowledge receipt of your email.  I will not be replying further.

 

Tony Jay

Parish Clerk

 

---------

From: Bleadon BOB Community Website <bleadon@live.co.uk>

Sent: 01 March 2017 03:41

To: Cllr Gutsell; Cllr Clarke; Cllr Gibbon; Cllr Hartree; Cllr Chinn

Cc: Bleadon Parish Clerk

Subject: Re: Bleadon Parish Council

 

Dear Councillors,

 

Firstly, the decision to include all councillors in this email is not a 'scatter gun' approach as we believe that all councillors should be included in this reply as we feel that even this correspondence again highlights BPC's ongoing poor comprehension and communication with us, and members of the public. We have tried to keep this brief but as always it is very difficult to discuss these things via email rather than face to face, especially given the poor efficacy by BPC that ultimately translates to it accusing us of being vexatious, which we refute. 

 

Please note that we believe the vexatious document as supplied in your correspondence is an invalid BPC policy as it has not received the resolved amendment of March 2016 minutes, or been published to the electorate. Therefore the we believe the appropriate Vexatious Policy to use is the one contained in the current, publicly declared, 2014 Corporate Policy as published on the BPC website. This version appears more publicly oriented and focused on how to communicate why BPC is 'unable' to answer a request and reasons for limiting access. For example, the introduction/first section of this document states:

  • 1. Rights of Public Access

     

  • 1.1. The Council recognises that, in the absence of good reasons to the contrary, members of the public have a right of access to the Council to seek advice, help or services that the Council offers.

     

  • 1.2. Criticism of, and complaints against, the Council or its employees are a welcome, legitimate and necessary part of the relationship between the Council and its local community. They are a valuable means of reflecting on the operations of the Council and improving both those operations and the quality of the Council's relationship with its local community.

     

  • 1.3. Nobody, no matter how much time and effort is taken up in responding to their complaints and concerns, shall be unconditionally deprived of the right to have those complaints or concerns addressed........

This information is not included in your attached unpublished, seemingly draft, 2016 Vexatious Correspondence and Complaints policy despite the March 2016 (282.5.3) minutes stating "It was resolved unanimously that subject to the addition of the introduction of the previous Vexatious Complaints Policy, the new Vexatious Complaints Policy be adopted and implemented with immediate effect for any new complaints." The unpublished version you have sent us appears more BPC oriented and more focused on reasons/ways not to answer a request from the public. We can now finally see why comments of concern were minuted regarding this draft version at the time. 

 

As stated previously our correspondence is usually born out of BPC's poor communication of information to us and other members of the public (who voice their concerns to us). The communication problem is compounded by BPC not supplying public documentation (that through its minutes and best practice should be promptly available/easily accessible, e.g. vexatious policy), and not answering queries re: BPC roles/responsibilities/vision, contradictory statements, etc. Examples of some current issues include:

  • BPC repeatedly appears not be be following its own policies, plans or resolutions let alone government recommended guidance, thereby repeating previous BPC actions and processes with some incurring/potentially incurring additional costs at public financial expense. Recent examples include: Parish Plan (which cost thousands of pounds to create), Vexatious Policy,  Protocol 205 Halls/BPC agreement, NSC duties, but there are plenty more.
  • In this correspondence it appears BPC has used an unpublished 2016 draft version of the vexatious policy. How are we/public supposed to know what BPC has agreed/disagreed if you don't tell us/public and supply the appropriate current documentation? This type of issue is usually where our requests for information/clarification to BPC start. (Please see detailed comments below re: current vexatious issue).
  • Just under a year ago BPC publicly agreed, for the at least the second time, that it would publish information e.g. policies, procedures, protocols, plans, minutes, agendas, etc. when it resolved to formally adopt the government ICO Model Publication Scheme. It now seems that although BPC relaunched its third version of the BPC website in January 2016 it was already out of date by March 2016, and continues to be so with regards the vexatious policy. If the information was readily available as BPC has previously resolved then we/public wouldn't need to ask/repeatedly ask for information and subsequently be accused of being vexatious.
  • Our recent Parish Plan correspondence with BPC followed one-to-one conversations and communications with District Councillors and Action Group members heavily involved in the very urgent public Inquiry, with associated very short deadlines. We therefore do not feel it was a 'scatter gun' approach to include them and BPC councillors in BPC responses to our enquries re: BPC involvement, Parish Plan documentation, BPC village/parish protection approach, etc. especially as some involved the future status of Bleadon as a village. Many key queries were never directly answered with many still outstanding. In our opinion surely the expected response from a parish council with a publicly adopted parish plan should have been along the lines of "Here's a copy of the plan, BPC has/will present the residents/BPCs views at the Inquiry...." instead we/public got a variety of excuses and BOB/we get indirectly informed we are incorrect and are being vexatious, why?
  • At three separate meetings BPC publicly stated that it would be submitting the Parish Plan to a public Inquiry yet wrote to us stating that it couldn't find it in electronic or paper format. This prompted repeated urgent requests during the Inquiry and subsequent request for public clarification, which has not happened. This key public documentation still hasn't been sent to us over two months later. So, which is the correct BPC statement?
  • BPC tell us that minutes cannot be amended, updated, annotated to clarify a situation as they are a record of a meeting e.g. Parish Plan submission to the Inquiry issue as noted above, yet minutes can be annotated as clearly seen in this months February minutes 292.4.i.

Having read your attached copy of the unpublished, seemingly draft, 2016 vexatious policy we and others would have assumed Section 2 of the policy (below) would have been more discrete. It is clear from past experience that councillors do communicate, approve and agree individual and full council actions behind closed doors if they so wish e.g. newsletter issue. So, if it is BPC's intention to discuss Section 2 in public forums then we feel that this needs to be stated in its policy. The public will then be fully aware that they, and their communications, will be negatively discussed without their prior knowledge with no ability for them to discuss or put forward their view of the situation either to full council, sub-group or in a public forum either before, during or after the process. Please also make it clear that there will also be no verbal discussion between parties to clarify or resolve issues during this process, only public announcements by BPC.

 

2 Using the (unpublished 2016) procedure (as used by BPC in this correspondence)

2.1 If the Clerk or Councillors identify behaviour that they THINK exhibits these characteristics, and which they BELIEVE MAY BE vexatious, they should form a sub-committee consisting of the Chair and two members of the Council; BPC did this in a very public manner announcing in the Jan 2017 meeting that it was going to invoke the Vexatious policy against us before forming a sub-committee to discuss the issue; Making it obvious it was being invoked against us; Making incorrect/unevidenced statements about the past (still unanswered and/or publicly corrected i.e.  Minute 291.6); and without officially informing us before announcing it either at a public meeting or subsequent draft minute publication.

 

2.2 If the sub-committee agrees with the assessment, they should prepare a brief STATEMENT OF WHY the sub-committee considers the complaint or correspondence to be vexatious, including its effect upon the Clerk, Councillors and/or the village. This should be accompanied by a list of correspondence over the last 6 months via email, telephone and letter, including information about whom the correspondence was addressed to, how many people/organisations it was copied to on each occasion, and a one-line description of each piece of correspondence.  Please can we have a copy of the 'statement of why' including the supporting information as collated and produced by the sub-committee during this process as stated in 2.2 of the vexatious policy used e.g. 'list of correspondence'? As our requests relate to BPC public communications re: policies, plans, protocols, resolutions and/or seeming contradictory statements, we would expect to be informed where our query was answered or a clear indication as to why BPC is 'unable' to answer it, no side-stepping or avoiding the query. We would also expect the information to indicate why the public are hearing discussions, reasons, explanations, outcomes, etc. to our correspondence in public forums and/or minutes but we are not given the courtesy of an official response or communication either before, during or after the event e.g. recent vexatious discussions, parish plan.

 

3.1 THE FIRST STEP will be for the Chair to inform the correspondent INFORMALLY that his/her behaviour is considered by the Council to be unreasonable or unacceptable, and request a changed approach. 

You state that BPC is invoking 3.1 yet BPC has already informed the public at the January meeting/minutes that they had decided that the policy "would be invoked". The February minutes also stated to the public that the "..Vexatious Correspondence and Complaints Policy had been breached by the two Parishioners, and that therefore the terms of the policy will be invoked". 

 

Assuming section 3 comes after section 2 how did BPC consider this approach informal, and how does it translate to formal public announcements and minutes of the January and February meetings, it certainly doesn't feel or indicate informal to us, or others? We were not told this process was going to be undertaken, or informed of the outcome until now. BPC left it to the public grapevine to let us know, with BPC waiting an additional seven days to send this email to us, on the same day as the public distribution of the February minutes. We have tried and suggested a variety of different communication approaches and freely offered to share our knowledge, experience and services, yet BPC has not suggested how it could change its approach to improve our, or the public, communication situation and instead pursued implementing a vexatious policy.  As indicated above, we usually start with a simple request/query relating to BPC public communications which then appear to be side-stepped or avoided by BPC. Therefore, which of our requests were 'unreasonable or unacceptable'? For example: 

  • Our urgent request for a copy of the Parish Plan during the Inquiry; still not received after two months but publicly stated given to other people? Conversely there has been no public clarification in the minutes to indicate that the plan has been 'lost'?
  • Our request for clarification of the minuted Parish Plan and Inquiry issue stated to be Cllr Porter's problem and not BPC's; with no clarification as to why the minutes stated our information was inaccurate as we received it directly from NSC officers and/or BPC; and with no response from BPC clarifying how it intends to protect Bleadon's rural village status now, during Inquiries or in the future i.e. What is BPC's plan for the parish and its future if it has 'lost' and is not using the current 20 year plan as adopted in 2009?
  • Our request for clarification of the BPC statement that current councillors do not need to be aware of previous publicly published BPC plans, policies, protocols, resolutions; with no response to date; yet BPC expect the public to be aware, even when policies have not been published, with the Vexatious Correspondence and Complaints Policy appearing to be another example?
  • Our request for evidence of BPC's public statement that the vexatious policy has been invoked against us before; over a month has passed and still no receipt of proof nor any public statement to the contrary?
  • Our request for clarification of the many BPC contradictory statements; e.g. BPC repeatedly stating that they cannot annotate/correct/supplement/etc minutes to clarify public misinformation, and in our case BPC's portrayal of us in public meetings and minutes (e.g. parish plan, newsletter, access to information, vexatious issue, etc.), yet they clearly can if they so wish (Minute 292.4.i)?

BPC Code of Conduct adopted Feb 2016

In relation to our outstanding requests for information BPC's adopted Code of Conduct states that "All elected, co-opted and independent Members of local authorities, including Parish Councils, are required to abide by their own, formally adopted, Code. The Code of Conduct seeks to ensure that Members observe the highest standards of conduct in their civic role. The Code is intended to be consistent with the seven principles": The two principles we feel most related to our requests are:

  • ACCOUNTABILITY: Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office. 
  • OPENNESS: Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

We believe that these principles are in harmony with the "1.1 Rights of Public Access" as noted above and contained in the currently published Vexatious Policy i.e. the ones missing from the version you used and sent us. Considering BPC's own policies, etc. we would like BPC to explain why, instead of directly answering queries, it encouraged a 'repeated requests for information' and 'lengthy correspondence' situation, then invoked a vexatious policy to seemingly avoid answering the queries and publicly put us/BOB in a negative light? We continue to expect answers to our outstanding queries; including those that should inform the public where incorrect BPC statements have been made. 

 

3.2 If there is no improvement in behaviour the Council will write to the correspondent advising them that their complaint and/or correspondence has been determined to be vexatious and giving the reason for that decision, along with a copy of the Vexatious Correspondence and Complaints Policy.......

You state that BPC is invoking 3.1, yet you appear to be half way through 3.2, with the inclusion of the policy, but with no agreed way forward from BPC with regards public access to information or queries. BPC has stated that it wants to be open and transparent. Our 'repeated requests' for information arise due to BPC's avoidance of directly answering queries, contradictory statements or not supplying documentation. If BPC won't indicate which of our queries/requests are 'unreasonable or unacceptable' or why it is unable to fulfill them how does it think the situation will improve? Our 'lengthy' correspondence putting queries into context (like this one) is again born out of BPCs unwillingness to directly answer queries or supply existing documentation, which BPC then appears to find unmanageable. If BPC doesn't indicate how communications with us/public can be improved so that they will answer public queries/requests, how does it think the situation will change in the future? If BPC doesn't publish its plans, policies, procedures, protocols, etc. how do they expect the public to know and understand BPC's preferred way of working with them? FYI, paragraph 3.2 is numbered twice in the 2016 Vexatious policy document, which paragraph should we read in relation to your email below?

 

As I hope you can see from the above we are very disappointed in your email, the manner in which this process was undertaken, its outcome, and also in the way that BPC are again avoiding answering requests/queries. This time BPC has chosen to publicly use a seemingly invalid vexatious policy to hide its actions whilst blaming us for what we believe to be valid public enquiries. These requests we believe should solicit simple expedient answers as anticipated and expected by BPC's own policies and government best practice guidance documents, such as the ICO Model Publication Scheme, that BPC resolved to adopt again for its third website re-write only a year ago!

 

We look forward to receiving the outstanding requests for documentation and information ASAP. Also, as part of its February resolve to review its policies, perhaps BPC should consider whether its information and communication approach to the electorate is effective, and whether it is indeed fit for purpose. After all, it seems that during the recent housing Inquiry process BPC has indirectly, but not publicly, declared that it has delegated crucial issues, queries, actions and decisions to NSC and its District councillors (and public action groups) along with the strategic future of Bleadon Village and its Parish Plan.

 

Kind regards,

 

Chris Butler and Jo Gower-Crane

email: bob@bleadon.org.uk

web: www.bleadon.org.uk

twitter: @bleadon

facebook: BleadonBOB

latest news: http://www.bleadon.org.uk/news.html

--------------------

 

From: Cllr GUTSELL

Sent: 20 February 2017 07:36

To: Bleadon Bob

Cc: Tony Jay

Subject: Bleadon Parish Council

 

Dear Chris and Jo,

 

As you are aware the Bleadon Parish Council set up a sub committee to consider if the correspondence received from yourselves has become unmanageable, in terms of the repeated requests for information, your demands, the length of the correspondence received, the time it takes for Councillors and the Clerk to process, it's affect those individuals and your ‘scatter gun’ approach when sending some emails. The sub committee met and agreed to recommend to the full Parish Council that under the terms of section 3.1 of BPC's Vexatious Correspondence and Complaints Policy I should write to you as Chair of the Council and ask you to cease writing to the council in such fashion.  It was resolved at the full Parish Council meeting on 14th February that the Council now invokes section 3.1 of the policy

 

In the event that any of the Parish Councillors or the Clerk receive furtheremails of the type described above then section 3.2 of  the Vexatious Correspondence and Complaints Policy will be invoked. Please find a copy of the VexatiousCorrespondence and Complaints Policy attached.

 

Yours sincerely

Claire Gutsell

Chair Bleadon Parish Council

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