Teachers at the Anderson High School and other members of the public are set to receive a formal apology from the SIC after an internal investigation ruled that confidential comments they made were published due to “a lack of clear communication and understanding”.
Their comments were available on the council’s website for several hours on 26th August and were also included in appendices sent out to the local media ahead of a meeting on 3rd September to discuss an independent review from consultant Andrew Laidler into where the new AHS should be located. Services committee chairman Gussie Angus issued a public apology for the breach of trust at the time.
Following a complaint from councillor Jonathan Wills, the matter was investigated by the council’s head of administration Anne Cogle, who has concluded that while comments from staff at the school were “clearly sought in confidence”, that had not been communicated to either the report’s author or to members of staff responsible for collating and distributing the final papers.
A covering report from head of legal Jan Riise suggests that it would be appropriate for councillors to issue a formal apology to each of the correspondents, to be signed by SIC convener Sandy Cluness.
He states: “There certainly was a reasonable expectation of confidentiality, in the sense of representations being provided not being attributed to specific individuals, and to that extent [I] would submit that there has been maladministration because the confidentiality was not maintained.”
Mr Riise says the misunderstanding seems to centre on Mr Laidler’s interpretation of the requirement for confidentiality as meaning “concern for the security of the originals”.
There was “no evidence”, the report notes, that comments received from the general public by, among others, Dr Wills, had been intended to be confidential. But it is being suggested that the council should say sorry to them as well.
Ironically, Ms Cogle’s full report on the matter – which is marked “confidential” – has also been made publicly available online and in papers sent to the media ahead of Wednesday’s meeting of the Full Council.
In it, she stated that “the sharing of the information with Mr Laidler and subsequent reproduction in a public report did cause some upset but not substantially as to warrant any disciplinary or legal action”.
Her report continued: “It is clear that there was no deliberate intention to embarrass or misuse the documents or the information contained in them, and their release was due to lack of clear communication and understanding.”
Chief executive David Clark confirmed to Ms Cogle that he was unaware the staff views sought by Mr Angus as part of the review were intended to be confidential and he “only became aware of the issue when the first complaints were received by him”.