Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/05/12/chichester_davies/

Councillor barred for slating IT dept

'You are the servants', said former Captain

By Mark Ballard

Posted in Policy, 12th May 2006 12:52 GMT

A Chichester councillor was so rude to IT staff that he was suspended from his elected office, an official report revealed yesterday.

The local government Adjudication Panel, which hears cases of misconduct brought against local government officials by ethics officers, published the reasons behind its decision to suspend councillor "Taff" Davies for a year, taking him to the end of his elected duration.

To paraphrase the report, the councillor put lot of noses out of joint. He accused the council IT department of running a "crap" IT system, told the techies they were "servants", and in December 2004 tried to bypass official channels and get a business associate's web proposal straight into the lap of the chief executive.

The damning report said he was an "embarrassment" to Chichester District Council, "aggressive" and "intimidating" toward junior council staff, had slagged off council executives, and breached parts of the council code of conduct that govern "honesty and integrity" and "respect for others".

Councillor Davies, a retired Royal Navy captain and software entrepreneur, claimed he had been treated in a "bullying and despicable manner" and "goaded" into writing rude emails.

The adjudicator did not quote from emails or provide other technical evidence that would have shed light on Davies's defence.

Davies insists his email had been "routinely monitored" by the council, but this was dismissed by the adjudicator. It also dismissed Davies's complaint that some of the evidence used against him might not have been obtained lawfully.

A press release issued in Davies's defence on Tuesday, the eve of the adjudicator's full report into the case, alleged that Chichester deputy chief executive Rob Benny admitted to the adjudicator that he authorised the monitoring of Davies' email.

The release said the councillor had been monitored because "he had a predisposition to be critical of the council IT policy and provision". The Adjucator's report mentioned this, but gave no explanation for excluding the evidence.

The press release, attributed to the Chichester Local Democracy Action Group, whose sole activity to date appears to be in rallying support for Davies, said that his "disparaging" and "sarcastic" email campaign had been directed at the council's £11.5m egovernment programme.

Davies is quoted in the release as saying that he had been punished by the council for raising "significant questions" about the programme.

"It is nonsense to disqualify someone from elected office for using words like 'crap'. It's an offence against democracy," he said.

Davies's concern over the council's e-government programme and the state of local democracy was not recorded in the adjudicator's report. But it did quote from a trail of rude emails Davies started sending out within weeks of being elected to the council in May 2003.

His first recorded mistake was to copy the IT department into an email that discussed the council's "crap email system". Davies appeared to know better and became frustrated when his barracking brought no one round to his way of thinking. It also appears that the "old salt's" behaviour was quickly getting him ostracised around the council.

"For goodness sake, either sack the lot of them and start again, or do SOMETHING," he said of the IT department in an email to the council IT head six months later, according to the Adjudicators' report.

Davies claimed that at first his emails where meant to be humorous. Later, he had grown frustrated with the system.

"THEY are the servants not the masters, and merely the providers of a service of communications AND NO MORE THAN THAT," he said of the IT department in an email to council leaders and executives in July 2004.

By the autumn of 2004, IT staff were said to be feeling intimidated. Web analyst Harvey Monaghan feared for his job after a number of emails from the councillor that reached a nadir with the veiled threat: "If you want, the gloves can come off and let us do battle."

It seems the IT department was not interested in Davies's ideas for improving the council's IT systems. So he went straight to the chief executive with a business proposal, on which he had collaborated, from Duck Driver Limited, a local computer firm.

Duck Driver, which hosts websites, is hosting the site of the Local Democracy Action Group. Its proposal was to host councillors' web pages.

The proposal was rejected and Davies was warned of a potential conflict of interests. Seven weeks later, in January 2004, he resigned as portfolio holder for economic development, and proceeded to question the council executives' integrity in public.

According to the report, it was after the proposal was rejected that Davies's relationship with the council deteriorated. That is when he was supposed to have discovered that his email was being routinely monitored. He had already complained that he was being blocked from reading official documents on the council website.

Davies made a number of apologies for his behaviour. The adjudication tribunal's decision was unanimous among three members. The case was brought against Davies by Chichester council's ethics officer, Jennifer Rogers, for being rude. ®