Monday, April 29, 2013

Auckland Council does not understand LGOIMA

The Herald reports that the Auckland Council is refusing to release background papers used by the working party developing its unitary plan. Their reason?

She said the political working party was still meeting and it was important that councillors and Local Board members and officers who advised them were able to express their opinions and discuss options in a free and frank way.
Which doesn't sound like "free and frank advice" at all; rather it sounds like Auckland Transport are attempting to import the OIA's s9(2)(f)(iv) protection of "confidential advice", designed to give politicians "space for decision-making" without us dirty peasants looking over their shoulders - a withholding ground which does not exist at all in LGOIMA.

But even if they're not, they're still misapplying the law by applying it in a blanket fashion to all background papers. As the Ombudsman makes clear, the "free and frank advice" clause applies only to opinions, not to factual and background material, and it must be assessed individually on the merits for each document. Furthermore, material can only be withheld if its release would inhibit the expression of such free and frank views in the future. The people supposedly generating these views are local body politicians, councillors and board members; they can and should be expected to take responsibility for their views, and to be held electorally accountable for them. But the latter I suspect is precisely why they are trying to withhold them.

The Herald is taking the Auckland Transport Council to the Ombudsman over this, and I suspect they'll win.

Also on the topic of Auckland Transport Council and LGOIMA: Rodney Hide complained on Sunday about their CCO Auckland Transport's handling of a request for traffic modelling spreadsheets:
I followed Randle's lead and requested the spreadsheets and the relevant model output reports. Auckland Transport has refused to supply them to me.

Its latest is a lawyer's letter explaining that Auckland Transport will provide what I want but only if I pay them $3850.

Oh, and they won't send me the spreadsheets.

Instead, they will send a printed output. That's useless to me. It won't allow me to check the very calculations that Randle showed were so devastatingly wrong in their first report.

The Ombudsman has been very clear on this: an organisation must provide information in the format requested, unless doing so would be prejudicial to the interests protected by the act (in which case it can be withheld anyway), contrary to a legal duty in respect of a particular document, or impair efficient administration - a very difficult test to meet (even where information is held in hardcopy, it is no more difficult to scan than photocopy, and in many cases it is done on the same machine). As for their proposed charge, it is clearly predicated on having to print the material out, and is thus unreasonable. It costs nothing to send an attachment on an email, and where that is requested, that is how agencies should respond.

Correction: Yes, its Auckland Council being bad over the Unitary Plan, not its agency Auckland Transport.