Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Tuesday 31 January 2012

Rhoda comes tomorrow, and I am trying to train Dave to behave himself with her. He must not start firing off accusations, justifications or the sort of home truths they deserve, otherwise he will entrench their conviction that he is a lout, and he will never get the revenge he wants because Rogerson will always twist the truth to blunt whatever weapons Dave throws at him.
Instead I think he must keep asking the questions - insist it is impossible to move on until all sides understand the real reasons behind the suspension and inquiry; insist to Rhoda that CR's explanations are less than half the answer; insist she explains what really made all five of them abandon common sense, decency and rationality. Otherwise the whole debacle could happen again.
The central questions are:

  • Why did they have those suspicions?
  • Why didn’t they try to discuss them with you?
None of the explanations so far advanced adds up. The financial misappropriation one doesn't, because Dave wasn't misappropriating anything. The procedural irregularities one doesn't, because there were no procedures and the trustees had refused to discuss the ones Dave proposed. That leaves personal antagonism, basically, but he has to get her to realise and admit that for herself, and to suggest without telling her that they over-reacted disastrously to a disagreement. 
I tell him:
"If she admits that personal antagonism infected Bratt’s and Rogerson’s judgement, try and get her to identify when it started. Prompt her if necessary (eg ‘Do you think it was over the matter of the extra minutes secretary?’) but try not to put words into her mouth.
If she does say ‘Clarke objected to your allegations of dishonesty’, DON’T say ‘Yes, because he lied to me.’
DO counter it with ‘So you think he was answering them by making worse allegations, in public, even though these were about to wreck the running of the Society for the next 3 months?’

If she brings up the £25 issue, ask her if she had seen that email you sent Bratt, in which you explained why you needed it and offered to pay it yourself. Ask how anyone could have believed that came from someone intent on defrauding the Society. If she hadn’t seen it, you can stare [in disbelief] and ask ‘You mean he didn’t show you?’ but leave it at that. DON’T say ‘The bugger’ or pass any other judgement – let her draw the inference."

I don't know about discussing the future. I don't think Dave should let them assume he will resign as they want him to. They've got a whole lot of humble pie to eat first.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Friday 27 January 2012

Progress in the PNFS saga, I hope: trustee Rhoda Barnett has offered to come and talk to Dave in person about what happens next, as a sort of preliminary mediation. Dave had to be restrained from retorting that as a signatory to the original letter (suspending him and accusing him of possible criminal malfeasance) she could not be impartial or a mediator. However, eventually and grudgingly he accepted that she was holding out an olive branch, and trying to be tactful, and that the least he could do was to accept her offer, because anything else would brand his behaviour as even more impossible than they think it already.

At 12.15pm I was waiting for Catherine at college when a blitz of hail and snow struck. We waited a few minutes for the worst to pass before she drove off. But the worst hadn't passed, and the road quickly became slushy and slippery. She kept driving, and managed very well, and snow had eased to rain before we got to the long long traffic jam caused by interminable resurfacing works with interminable temporary traffic lights at Bridgemont.
However, another snowstorm struck later, and the casualty was Mrs Harling. Dave rang while I was out walking to say she'd had a car accident and was unhurt but in a tizz. She had skidded on Silk Hill and embedded her car in brambles. I got to her house before 5pm to find her trying to cope with pupils but confused and shaken. Over the next two hours she gradually calmed down, phoned her insurers and daughter, and let the insurers arrange for the AA to collect her car and take it to the repairers at Dove Holes. She got scared and shaky again trying not to think of how she'd manage if it was written off, and, worse, what would have happened if she hadn't steered it onto the bank. She kept saying bravely, 'I'm perfectly all right, I'm really very lucky'. I said drink you rtea, make some toast and keep warm, but it wasn't much to offer after such a shake-up.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Thursday 26 January 2012

David Morton enquired of Rogerson what authority he had to suspend DCB. The reply:

"Dear all

I, as Chairman of the Society, will try to answer the central question, raised in Dave Morton's email of 25 January, which is - what authority do the trustees have?

The Trustees (as a body i.e. all five acting collectively in the case of PNFS) have an overriding duty to pursue the best interests of the charity. 

Quoting from Charity Commission Guidance CC3:

  • Trustees have and must accept ultimate responsibility for directing the affairs of a charity
  • Avoid undertaking activities that might place the charity's endowment, funds, assets or reputation at undue risk.
  • Consider getting external professional advice on all matters where there may be material risk to the charity, or where the trustees may be in breach of their duties.
Our, the trustees, overriding duty means that in extreme circumstances we must act promptly. I believe that I and the other trustees acted promptly in the best interests of the Society. At the Officers Meeting scheduled for the 10th February, the Trustees will have to explain our actions. We will have to do it again at the AGM to the membership at large. 
I am comfortable with the fact that I can fully justify all my actions as a Trustee. " 

So he believes his suspicion (that Dave was 'misappropriating charitable funds') was sufficiently well grounded to justify suspension with independent examiner's inquiry. Yet he did not apparently consider discussing the matter (D's request to spend £25 to expedite the printing and distribution of the newsletter) or even asking why he wanted the money, or even reading the emails that D had already sent explaining why he wanted it.  Nor did he pay any attention to the Charity Commission's additional advice - that trustees should try to sort out problems internally by all appropriate means before resorting to expensive external agencies, and advocating mediation. His action seems totally disproportionate and bereft of common sense, let alone civility or intelligence. As the examiner pointed out, better communication, and willingness to communicate, could have solved much of the problem before it started. Dave tried his best to explain and discuss. The trustees refused. 

So now he is writing to all the recipients of Rogerson's letter to put these facts before them and ask them to consider them fairly, since he hasn't been invited to their meeting on 10 February and is unlikely to get a fair hearing in person. 

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Dave gets up about 7 but mopes around in his dressing gown till 11. He goes to the internet, frets over PNFS emails, reads his book, waits for the paper, does the sudoku and then the crossword, wants coffee, lets the weather get him down still further... maybe a phone call or GP appointment will make him go and get dressed; it seems a painful effort. With luck, the mood lifts a little with lunch and activity, but he is just as likely to be cast into darker affliction of mind or else to outright anger or impotent protest by something Rogerson says or does. Today he found out from David Morton that he is not to be invited to the officers meeting on 10 February which, we suppose, will discuss his suspension and decide his fate. CR says in the invitation Dave didn't get that the meeting on 10 February will discuss (1) the examiner's report and (2) DCB's behaviour since 19 October. In other words, CR will try to persuade the officers that despite the inquiry findings Dave should be expelled. And so forceful is the ruthlessness of Rogerson and Bratt, and so poisonously slippery their tongues, that their will is likely to prevail. And since fairness has never entered into this dispute from the start, Dave is not going to get a chance to put his side of the argument in person.
So he will have to rely on briefing David Morton, Bill Bailey and anyone else willing to support him. But how willing can we expect them to be, given the dominance of the president and chairman, and the fact that the officers are heartily sick of the whole affair?
Back in November, friends said walk away; they're not worth the bother of fighting; nobody gains. Three months later, Dave is still fighting; he has the moral high ground but the trustees have all the power. Dave says he would willingly resign, but not before publicly clearing his name. I know he is right.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Monday 23 January 2012

11.30pm Sunday night: 'Wake up Judy! You must see this latest email from Clarke Rogerson.'
There was reams of it. Pages of vitriol, spelling out to everyone why he did not consider Dave 'exonerated' at all, how he flouted the Volunteers Handbook and the trustees' authority, how having fallen out with two senior officers of the Society he deserved to be asked to leave, how business had proceeded much more harmoniously at Taylor House without him, etc. Dave spent the next 3 hours refuting each paragraph, pointing out the lies and distortions, and informing CR that he was a bully who could not cope with anyone disagreeing with his point of view, in what was for him remarkably restrained language. By 7.30am there was yet more e-sewage from CR, and Dave decided he had to go to Taylor House and face him in person - CR had after all invited officers to bring him their questions at the office today.

In the end, nothing happened. The trustees took themselves into a locked room and wouldn't come out; the officers and volunteers who wanted answers were frustrated; one of CR's minions asked Dave to leave as he was suspended and was told no, he wouldn't, and he wasn't formally suspended; several officers said they backed Dave but didn't see what they could do about it.

But two of them posted emails that at last shone a beam of common sense onto the issue. Brian Hamilton said that as Dave had been cleared of financial wrongdoing but CR still hadn't apparently exonerated him, nothing added up so there was obviously some other motive behind the suspension; that the officers and volunteers were sick of the matter; that Clarke was deluding himself about the harmony in the office; that the whole matter should have gone to mediation months ago, avoiding all the expense, time-wasting and bitterness; and that neither party was behaving like civilised, adult officers of a charitable society. And Bill Bailey said more succinctly: "Cool it, guys!"

Dave isn't going to get his officers meeting brought forward from 10 February (the date set by CR). I would like to think that this further delay would give CR time to reflect on Brian Hamilton's points, but I think it more likely that it will give him time to bolster his own unwillingness to accept the examiner's conclusions and entrench his animosity towards Dave.

When Jackie asked what was bothering me at choir, I outlined what had happened and she said 'I have heard that so often about people involved in charity work. The dispute is usually financial, involves one or more dominant personalities, and is based on suspicions not facts. It poisons everything for everybody if it gets out of hand.'

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Sunday 22 January 2012

Vociferous support from David Morton, who wants to email all the officers making clear what he thinks of the trustees - in terms such as 'irrational'... 'run by just two forceful men, one of them allegedly seeking an exit, who having worked with you for years, suddenly decides he can no longer do so and that he still has the power, along with his pal the president, to force you out'... 'You were never formally suspended, nor even formally accused of anything. Innuendo, hinting that you had done something unspeakable, was substituted for plain speaking, and common sense went out the window. Not one of the trustees sought our opinions or mentioned mediation, even though it was needed and indeed is recommended by the Charity Commission. When we tried to give our opinions anyway, they were pooh-poohed, patronised and sidestepped.'

Strong stuff. Dave warned him to take care, as he will have burnt his boats with the Society once CR gets to read it. Also, we're not so sure the fuss started with CR - Bratt is equally involved. But as well as provoking anger on Dave's behalf, the affair has galvanised the officers into realising they can't let the trustees bully them any more and must come up with a form of governance that restores rationality and good will among the officers and curbs the power of the trustees. 'The trustees are at best a useful backstop or safeguard, a second chamber.'

DM will sound out the other officers at Taylor House tomorrow, and DCB will try to get a meeting held next Monday, whatever CR's response to the suggestion. However, his resolve sputters and falters: 'I don't know if I do want to go back. I'm tempted to leave them to flounder.' I get cross at him for continuing to moan even when he is getting support. 'I acknowledge it would be hard to work with Bratt or Rogerson again. But just see what comes of the officers meetings. You don't have to decide until the AGM.' As usual he fixes on the worst-case scenario. 'They won't apologise. They'll find some ruse to keep me suspended.'

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Saturday 21 January 2012

Dave's Friday emails have brought forth hearty support from some of the PNFS officers, particularly David Morton ('In my opinion Bratt and Rogerson ought to be suspended for at least as long as you were; they wouldn't be  missed') and Bill Bailey ('Good on yer, mate'). Also a cold note from Clarke Rogerson, demanding compliance with the letter he sent before Christmas about the ICO and use of the mailing list. We told him thanks for the laugh. And added 'Do you really think the Information Commissioner would be worried if an officer of a footpaths society wrote to members of that society inviting them to a Christmas mince pie ramble?' - referring him to the ICO guidance on such trivia and pointing out that he, not the secretary, was the data controller responsible for the security of the system.

More seriously, CR informed Dave that they would be meeting Ms Hudson to consider his request to clarify the report on 1 February, but did not intend to hold an officers meeting until Terry Norris returned from holiday on 10 February. Dave replied that the delay was unacceptable and unnecessary, and proposed an officers meeting for 30 January. He'll go ahead with one anyway, with or without CR and Bratt, as he feels he has them on the back foot now and needs to get the officers talking, both about his position and about the trustees' proposals to re-jig the constitution.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Thursday 19 January 2012

The independent examiner's report arrived on Tuesday. Broadly, it exonerates Dave and identifies the causes of the dispute as lack of communication and lack of formal written rules or procedures. As we knew.
But it seems to have left him more bitter and downcast than ever.

I summarised the 30 pages into 3. This is my summarised summary:

Results of the investigation into Dave Brown’s expenditure while Acting Secretary of PNFS
The investigation by the independent examiner Ms Elizabeth Hudson ACA covered:
  • DCB’s expenses claims from 1 January 2010 to 28 October 2011
  • items of expenditure authorised by DCB from 1 January 2011 to 3 October 2011
  • whether any matters relating to these expenses and items of expenditure should be reported to the Charity Commission or other agency.
·         DCB made and sought no personal gain for himself or his family, so there is no need to report to the Charity Commission or other agency.

·         DCB broke no formal rules or procedures, because there were none to break.  All his actions were wholly explicable, in their context. However, it would be in the interests of all officers and members if procedures were agreed and formalised to prevent risk to the Society’s funds and standing, and to its members’ reputations, in future. DCB had drafted a spending policy for discussion at the trustees meeting on 7 September 2011 but the trustees had refused to discuss it.

·         The root causes of the dispute were lack of communication between the secretary and the trustees, and the lack of formalised procedures on expenses and expenditure.

In our view (DCB and JAB):
·         This dispute deprived members of a dedicated, efficient and popular secretary, newsletter editor and publisher, IT consultant and short-walks organiser for 4 months. This looks like a grossly inappropriate response to a difference of opinion between officers, which goes against Charity Commission guidelines as well as against common sense.

·         If anything good is to come out of the dispute, it is to alert the Society to the  need to put its business on a more formal, professional footing in line with Charity Commission guidelines, before any other officer can be humiliated, the work of the Society interrupted, and the competence of the trustees further called into question.

 Dave is writing to all the officers initially, and probably to the inspectors and other volunteers, in these terms. He wants to do it asap to forestall any attempt by the trustees to send them a twisted version, but he has also asked Ms Hudson to revise certain parts of her report as it didn't state these points nearly as clearly as it could have done, so he may manage to hold himself back for a day or two. What gripes him at the moment is 'I don't know how to get back at Bratt. I don't know what could hurt him unless members and affiliated bodies resigned from the Society over the money and time he has wasted by attacking and humiliating me. I don't suppose they will.' 
Perhaps we will move on eventually from pure vengeance, but if you call it, instead, the conviction that justice is worth doing, that wrongdoers must be held to account, then Dave's fight is worth fighting. Bratt and Rogerson are, after all, president and chairman, as well as trustees and officers, of a worthy charitable society. 

There must be some motion of censure, at least. They have destroyed the capability and esteem of an experienced, dedicated and efficient officer, and the cost is to the Society as well as to the officer. They will have spent hundreds of pounds of charitable money on an investigation and legal fees which were wholly unnecessary. All the examiner's findings were there to see, if the trustees had thought to look - they keep the accounts, they have worked with Dave for years, they ought to have been aware that there were no formal rules or procedures for anyone to breach. All they had to do was talk to him. They have proved through this episode of maladministration that they are unfit to manage this Society. 

And now these same trustees are proposing to give themselves more not less power to tell the officers what to do. An oligarchy of five, no independent chairman, which in effect becomes a dictatorship of two, since the other three are there for a quiet life. Fewer officers meetings, far less responsibility allowed to the officers. The Society's constitution needs a fundamental overhaul, but in terms of formalising financial procedures and defining roles, rather than re-jigging the trustees' job description.

Can these issues wait until the AGM in May? I think Dave needs to get the other officers in the frame as soon as possible. Today he is now saying 'I want to be reinstated. I don't believe they had the power to suspend me in any case. If I am to resign I want to do it on my terms.' Which is more positive than railing about being powerless to get back at Bratt.

He wants me to go on Bratt's walk with him on Wednesday. I said I wasn't sure he should go himself, as a confrontation with the leader wouldn't do him any good in the eyes of the members. He says he's not going there to pick an argument with Bratt, but I suppose I'd better go to make sure he doesn't. (Or to fight for him if he does.)

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Sunday 15 January 2012

The wind turned east, and the world made of mud and rain now glitters under ice. On Kinderlow the moonscape of black peat has turned to stone, at one with the weird lumpen rocks that litter the edge and whet the kniving wind ... or it would be as wild and witchy as this were it not for the dozens of brightly clad figures yomping across it. I was trying a route for my Buxton Ramblers walk next month, but the one I tried involved hopping and scrambling down the very rough path from Cluther Rocks, which has beautiful views but knackers your knees so badly that I decided I'd be better doing the circuit the other way round.

The independent examiner's report on the PNFS fiasco isn't now expected until 25 January. I have been looking out for it it since Christmas and Dave now tells me not to be so impatient and bad-tempered over it; he sighs 'it won't make any difference, whatever it says'. But he is the one who has been seething for weeks, and fretting 'what shall I do if they say this? what shall I do if they say that?' until all I can say is 'I don't know!' and scurry away - so the whole business is making both of us feel frayed and sound ratty.

The hens are foolishly moulting, and consequently cold and grumpy. At night all three cram into the one nesting box, so at least the one on the bottom must be toasty warm. Their water dispenser froze overnight, and they appreciated having it refilled it with hot water this morning - a pot of tea and bowl of porridge would probably have gone down a treat as well.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Friday 13 January 2012

Yesterday evening the internet vanished from our house. This caused me not to waste time surfing it, but also cut off email, msn and BBC weather, so we all felt totally out of touch for 10 hours. When Dave discovered it was still off in the morning, it made him hiss withrage, and when he demanded to go up in the loft over Catherine's bedroom to reset the server, that made her hiss with fury. So the cat and I went up to my room, and when I tried turning my computer off-and-on-again - dutifully, as one does, in case it solved anything - that made a hiss too, which made the cat jump off and hiss because she thought it was the microwave...
Dave rang the ISP about it. He went through about 6 levels of automated response, until he finally got a voice that said, 'All our offices are closed until 9am. However, if your query concerns failure to access the internet, why not try our help section at www. ...' Two minutes later the internet came back on, starting with BBC weather, so everyone cheered up again.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Mrs Harling looked and sounded terrible; about 99 and shrunken inside a big padded gilet, with baggy red eyes, hollow cheeks and cracked voice. She insisted she was much better, having started on antibiotics all of yesterday, and perfectly capable of course to carry on with the lesson. Her friend Annette had carried her off, protesting all the way, to the doctor, after a week of feeling dreadful, 'razor blades in my throat; coughing all night so I couldn't sleep; unable to speak or swallow; streaming eyes and nose; a right pickle.'
The doctor had put her in her place.
GP: I'll just listen to your chest.
SH: There's nothing wrong with my chest.
GP: Do you want a job here?
GP: Have you been watching Downton Abbey?
SH: Yes.
GP: And Tea with Mussolini?
SH: I've seen it.
GP: You're in both of them.
SH: Pardon?
GP: The Maggie Smith character. Dowager Duchess type.
He also informed her she had tracheitis and acute sinusitis, so what she was doing taking hour-long adult lessons next day I don't know, except she adamantly insisted on doing so. Bored with being ill, I suppose.

I'm content again for a day or two, Sarah having sent me another international economics article to edit into more fluent English - except that nothing could turn the mathematical formulae in it into fluent anything. Also Vicky Keen sent back the Review article on Taxal School, saying she liked it but adding some amendments to be worked in. So I swung off down Whaley later, greeting everyone with a big smile or cheerful 'Sorry!', depending if I was in their way or not, and thinking how friendly the place was, instead of grey/mean/hard and noisy as it seems when I'm feeling down.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Monday 9 January 2012

I'm calling this blog Catmint because catmint is one of the few things that have grown successfully at our home. Two of the others are Richard Brown and Catherine Brown. But Rik will be off to London in a couple of weeks to start a new job, and Catherine will most likely be heading off to university in a few short months' time. So even though I know they're fledged and need to fly, maybe this site will be a way to keep in touch.

Even the cat would agree with the first sentence, and she's hard to please.

Meanwhile, today is another waiting day. Dave is waiting for the independent examiner to report on his dispute with Peak and Northern Footpaths Society, as he has been since the row blew up in October - a senseless and totally needless waste of time and charitable resources, which should have been sorted out before it started by four simple words, Talking To Each Other, but which has left him, as the wrongfully accused party, feeling humiliated, angry and underemployed.

I am underemployed too, and waiting/hoping for work. Plain Language Commission work has dwindled as our public-sector customers are suddenly penniless - another collateral of the economic crisis. Academic editing only happens sporadically. Ostensibly there are hundreds of freelance writing jobs on sites like Freelancer.com, vWorker or Gumtree, but most of them turn out to be article spinning for internet marketing purposes, which is foreign to me (being middle-aged) in every way. And I am naively surprised at the number of people wanting to buy ready-made theses and dissertations. I do keep applying for anything that looks more interesting/ethical, and I sign up to job-search sites, but I find it difficult as self-marketing doesn't come naturally to me, and nothing has come of it so far. I've had it too easy for too long with Plain Language Commission, as demand had come in steadily over the past 12 years without me having to do anything but deal with it.
However, there are thousands of people in much more critical states of unemployment.