Reference row sees councillors quit

An unflattering
job reference for Whitchurch Town Council’s clerk published by the
Whitchurch Herald has led to the resignation of five local councillors
and the clerk in question going on sick leave due to stress.

The
councillors resigned in order to question the ongoing employment of the
clerk, Chris Youngs, who said the reference had questioned his ability
to do his job, causing him stress. Part of the reference said he “often
did menial jobs rather than letting a more junior member of staff to
fulfil this function”.

Two town councillors escaped suspension
after sending the reference to the paper, a move that an adjudication
panel in Portsmouth said breached their own code by disclosing a job
reference and bringing the authority into disrepute.

Southsea
Town Council chairman Linda Symes and former chairman Stephen Cox
escaped a ban from public office after a tribunal decided they had not
acted maliciously in disclosing confidential information about their
former clerk and that they had believed the reference was already in
the public domain via the council’s website. They were reprimanded.

Whitchurch
Herald editor Andrew Bowen said legal counsel had advised him that an
abridged version of the reference could be published in the paper
because it had been sent by Southsea Council in response to a request
and, crucially, it had not been marked private or confidential.

He
said: “There’s no more serious libel than questioning someone’s ability
to do their job, so we were obviously extremely reticent about throwing
any criticism his way, but the reference gave us the opportunity to
present it to the public.

“As a result, the town councillors
resigned because they wanted to continue to question Youngs’ continuing
employment and it became their cause.”

Youngs recently announced that he is leaving the council in January next year for personal reasons.

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