Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Ombudsman on Horowhenua District Council

The Ombudsman has tabled a report in parliament on the Horowhenua District Council's compliance with the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act. While it finds no wrongdoing, its not exactly good. The money quote:

In relation to official information requests, the building blocks are all there. The Council has well-developed webpages for making a request, sound policy documents and a database for tracking requests. However senior leadership needs to take ownership of the Council’s official information practices. There was a marked absence of engagement from senior leadership in this area and I think the political climate during the recent Council term has been a distraction in this respect.
Shorn of the polite bureaucratese, this is basicly an acknowledgement that things are not working properly. Specific findings include a habit of the CEO of engaging in intemperate and unprofessional communications with requesters, a perception from staff that decisions on withholding and charging are being driven by the political tensions within (and about) the council, and inappropriate handling of requests from elected members. The Ombudsman has recommendations suggested "action points" about all of this, but fundamentally the problem seems to be one of councillors and the CEO engaged in perpetual warfare with one another, and insofar as the public are seen as proxies for one party or another, this spilling over to undermine the public's right to know. And while the Ombudsman can't say it, the public is ultimately going to have to resolve this in October - because it is clear that none of the parties can be trusted to behave professionally or lawfully.

Correction: An Ombudsman can only make "recommendations" where they have found error or wrongdoing, so the Ombudsman has "suggested action points" instead.