BLOCKING OF EMAILS
In February 2013, I became aware my emails to elected representatives had been blocked for 8 months. I addressed a full council meeting on the matter on 28 February 2013.
At the meeting, it was moved that the Governing Body
“Refer the complaint regarding censorship to the Chief Executive for investigation and a report back” and “Confirm that email correspondence to all elected members will be unfiltered until the Chief Executive has carried out his investigation.”
JUDGE, JURY AND EXECUTIONER
I felt this was a bit like Doug McKay, Chief Executive, being judge, jury and executioner at his own trial. Initially Mr McKay had denied blocking or censorship of anyone’s emails had taken place but later said three people had been “case managed”. An independent investigation of sorts did take place at a cost of, in excess of $50, 000, to the ratepayers. However, it was not about blocking emails but “dealing with high-demand customers”. A report was made to council on 23 May 2013.
In February 2015, I became aware of 2 emails to elected representatives being blocked. I lodged a complaint. Initially I was told there had been no blocking and my complaint would go no further. A senior manager later confirmed my emails had been “quarantined.”
On 22 September 2016, after being given the run-around with calls to the Call Centre, I complained directly to the CE, Stephen Town. I received a same-day reply from Mr Town making a number of allegations against me including “sending emails or making phone calls with a threatening or abusive tone.” On the basis of his allegations, he claimed I was in breach of council’s Unreasonable Customer Complainant policy (UCC) and he ordered me to direct all future phone calls and emails to one person, Dayle Muru. Next day I replied refuting his allegations and asking him to address 15 specific points. I received no response from him. I applied for copies of offensive emails and asked for transcripts of offensive phone calls. On 4 November 2016 I received an email from Dayle Muru responding to my letter of 23 September “on behalf of Stephen Town.” She avoided specific answers to my letter.
Re telephone transcripts
“Council records calls that come through to its call centre until they are transferred to staff. Calls with staff outside the call centre are not recorded. The concerns surrounding your communications were during interactions with staff outside the call centre.”
Re abusive emails
“The behaviour complained of above was a result of phone calls with staff and do not relate to emails.”
My lawyer wrote directly to Mr Town requesting affidavits from staff who claimed to have been “distressed” by me. His request was refused.
On 20 October I applied for a copy of all information on my file pertaining to the allegations made by Mr Town on 22 September 2016. On 4 November Dayle Muru denied me that information on the grounds of 29(1)(a) and 29(1)(f) of the Privacy Act. I complained to the Privacy Commissioner. On 1 May 2017 an investigator from the Privacy Commissioner’s office advised “I have formed the view that the Council interfered with your privacy when it withheld information from you without a proper basis to do so.” That same day I received a number of documents from Auckland Council, most of which post-dated the date of Mr Town’s allegations – 22 September 2016. Amongst those documents was one from Dayle Muru dated 6 October 2016.
“I have listened to a number of calls concentrating on the calls that were longer to see if during those he becomes abusive or rude. In all the calls that I have listened to he is civil he does make comments regarding the Councils service but they are quite general and can be classed as relevant to why he is ringing. In a lot of these calls he will ask for multiple employees when he is unable to get hold of them which means that the calls can be quite long between 15-30 mins. Once the calls are transferred if they have been they are no longer recorded so cannot comment on what his conversation is like after this.
The only factor is that he is phoning the council on some dates numerous times trying to get hold of a Council employee an example would be on 8th Sept 2016 he phoned 13 times this is the most excessive but I do have to say it is regarding him leaving messages and nobody returning his calls.
There are no calls that I can say are threatening or abusive in regards to the CSR staff.”
Council’s published UCC Review policy states:
“7.5 Periodic Reviews
All UCC cases where this policy is applied will be reviewed every six months (depending on the nature of the service provided) and not more than 12 months after the service change was initially imposed or continued.
The case manager will invite the complainant to participate in the review process in writing only, unless they determine that this invitation will provoke further UCC.
The nominated senior manager is responsible for conducting the periodic reviews.
Factors relevant to the periodic review such as the criteria to be considered, notifying the complainant of the upcoming review and outcome, recording the result, and notifying relevant staff of the result of the review are detailed in the UCC Procedure Guidelines.”
My ban was due for review on 22 March 2017, so having heard nothing by 24 March I emailed Dayle Muru to find out what was happening. On 28 March she advised me “In regards to your query about the six monthly review in accordance with the UCC policy, this will be carried out by the legal team and the Chief Executive and will take approximately two weeks to be thoroughly investigated.” As the months rolled by I was offered a range of excuses for delays but primarily in order to be “fair” to me. Then on 10 July I was advised by Mr Town my ban had been extended for a further 12 months as I had “potential” to cause distress to staff. I responded to Mr Town on 11 July but to date have had no reply to that letter. I was advised that a review by lawyers Meredith Connell had cost ratepayers $5,900. I have applied for a copy of the report but been denied it on the grounds of “legal privilege”. I have lodged a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner.
Read the experiences of the Horowhenua District Council.