Many years ago, when I was a schoolteacher, I would occasionally have a student ask a question to which I did not know the answer. My reaction was “Sorry, lad, I don’t know the answer but I’ll do some homework and try to come back with an answer tomorrow.” Many of my former students will attest to that.
As you will be aware from my previous post, I recently put a somewhat innocuous question to the Chair of my Local Board regarding the widening of Te Atatu Rd. “Has the HMLB seen a budget?” A simple Yes/No would have sufficed or failing that “I don’t know but I’ll go and do some homework.”
Instead, it took three months to get the eventual response “This is not in our decision making allocation so we have no decision making over the Auckland Transport budget. We have of course seen the budget line item in the RLTP.”
In the interim I had tried to contact senior members of Council to no avail. Having got the usual run-around of several minutes of canned music followed by referral to an answer phone, I became somewhat frustrated and laid a complaint. I suspected people were not being straight with me and they weren’t. I followed up that complaint with a complaint directly to the Mayor on 14 June.
Subject: Complaint 9000116794
- My complaint was lodged at 12.45 pm on Friday 8 June.
- When I enquired as to its status 3 separate call centre staff told me it had been “cancelled”.
- On Monday 11 June I was told it was being “dealt with” by Darryl Griffin.
- On Tuesday 12 June Darryl Griffin told me he had been very busy and had only just received my complaint. I asked Kerry Harrington to take the matter up with the Mayor’s office.
- On Wednesday I spoke to Kerry Harrington and asked for the name of the Mayor’s PA. I was told she was Catherine. She was a temp and Kerry didn’t know her last name.
- Kerry Harrington undertook to ring me or send an email once she ascertained Catherine’s surname.
- At 6.44 pm I received an unsatisfactory email from Darryl Griffin.
- On Thursday 14 June I rang Kerry Harrington at 9.13 am and pointed out to her I had not heard back regarding Catherine’s surname. Kerry said she understood Darryl Griffin had sent me an email. I said he had but it was unsatisfactory. I wished to speak to someone in the Mayor’s office. Catherine Lynton was unavailable. Donna Lovejoy was unavailable. I asked Kerry Harrington to get Catherine to ring me back.
- At 12.30 pm I rang and asked for Catherine Lynton. I was put through to Darryl Griffin. He told me there was a directive that any calls made by me to anyone in Auckland Council must go to him. I said that was ridiculous and pointed out we live in a Democracy, not a Fascist State.
- Is the cancellation of complaints a common practice for Auckland Council?
- Do you condone the referral of complaints to people whose jurisdiction they are outside?
- Did you issue a directive to screen all my calls?
- Is it the intention of AC to direct Council staff to direct all mail addressed to me to go through Darryl Griffin first?
- Do you believe AC is being accountable and transparent?
On 18 June, having received no response from the Mayor, I sent him a reminder.
On 21 June Darryl Griffin sent me an email containing a MEMO signed by the Chief Executive, Doug McKay. It was dated 19 June and read:
“To: Darryl Griffin, Manager Democracy Services
From: Doug McKay, Chief Executive
Subject: Case management- Mr Gary Osborne
I confirm my previous verbal advice that you are assigned to case manage Mr Gary Osborne and respond to any inquiry lodged with Auckland Council by telephone, email, in person or in writing by him.
Please ensure that Mr Osborne, Customer Services (including the call centres) and the Mayor’s office are aware of this directive.
At 11.44 am I emailed Darryl Griffin
My letter to the Mayor, 14 June, predates the enclosed MEMO by 5 days. Please when will I receive the courtesy of a reply and from whom?”
At 1.01 pm I sent an email to Doug McKay
I am astounded at the directive issued by you by way of memo to Darryl Griffin on 19 June.
- Please state the reason for the directive.
- Please cite the relevant legislation which gives you the authority to issue such a directive.
On 22 June at 11.26 am, in response to my email sent at 11.44 am the previous day, Darryl Griffin wrote:
“I am responding:
As I have advised you verbally the use of the term ‘cancellation’ was not correct – your complaint was not cancelled – it was referred to me. Cancellation of complaints is not a common practice.
Your complaints and inquiries are all referred to me. Complaints about elected members are referred to them. You are complaining about the Henderson-Massey Local Board Chairperson not responding and the Mayor has no jurisdiction over individual elected members. The electorate judges them on their performance every three years.
The Mayor did not issue a directive to screen all your calls. The Chief Executive has directed that all your inquiries are referred to me.
The Chief Executive has directed that all inquiries made by you are referred to me. I will endeavour to respond to your inquiries as quickly and as thoroughly as I can.
You have also requested that Doug advise you of the reasons for the directive and to cite the relevant legislation.
I have been requested to assist you to respond to your inquiries because a huge amount of council officer’s time is being required to respond to your inquiries without you being satisfied and that has required you to escalate a number of these to the Mayor, the Chief Executive and other managers. The Chief Executive of the Council is the only person employed by the Council as prescribed by the Local Government Act 2002 and it is his responsibility to employ all other staff and determine their roles and functions.”
My reply was:
“As I advised you verbally when we discussed the use of the term “cancelled” by three separate Call centre staff on three separate occasions, it could not have been mere coincidence that the same term was used on each occasion. It appeared to be the result of a directive.
When I spoke to Carolynne Rakich, Call Centre Manager, West Auckland on 14 June, she informed me Michael Joseph had given a directive from the Mayor’s office on 8 June that calls were not to be put through from me to the Mayor’s office. I had left a message on Michael’s answer phone asking him to ring me but the call was not returned.
Perhaps the “huge amount of council officer’s (sic) time” you claim is required to respond to inquiries is more a measure of the competence of council officers than a measure of the degree of complexity of inquiries.”
At 1.59 pm Darryl sent a further email:
“The use of the term ‘cancelled’ was unfortunate and was not part of any directive that I am aware of. Your complaint was referred to me and I have responded to it.”
“Nevertheless, I reiterate that was the term used by three separate people on three separate occasions.”
In the interim I had written to Doug McKay
“I would appreciate it if you would do me the courtesy of responding personally by answering the questions.”
At 2.01 pm Darryl wrote “Your email to Doug today has come through to me Gary. Doug has requested me, through his directive, to handle your inquiries.”
My response was “The email was directed to Doug personally. He knows my expectations re courtesies. He was once a student of mine.”