Address to Auckland Council 28 February 2013 by Gary Osborne
Your Worship, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I’m here to speak on Council censorship.
Should a bureaucrat have the power to decide what correspondence addressed to elected members they get to read?
In January 2011 I had a meeting with Doug McKay. We discussed Accountability and Transparency, Swimming Pool Fencing and the Film Studios. In an ironic twist I am currently serving on Auckland Council’s Policy Committee for Swimming Pool Fencing. Three weeks after my visit I received an email from Doug McKay re the Film Studios saying “As you predicted. Where to from here is what’s exercising my mind. Any ideas welcome.” I have been publicly critical of expenditure of ratepayer money on things like Film Studios for many years and many of my fears have been well founded.
On 7th February 2013 I criticised the Chair of my Local Board for failing to respond to an email sent to her in the first week of January with regards to matters raised about the widening of Te Atatu Road at a Local Board meeting on 1 November 2012. She sharply advised me she had not received the email. Next morning I sent her another email with copies to my Local Board members. None received it. Clearly my emails to elected representatives were being intercepted. At 9.50am I sent an email to Jason Marris asking what Council rules allowed this to happen. Next day I sent him 5 specific questions.
The questions and answers were: “I understand some months ago a decision was made to intercept all emails addressed by me to Henderson-Massey Local Board members at their advertised contact addresses.
1. Who made that decision? A. The Manager Democracy Services.
2. Was there any discussion with the HMLB members before its inception? A. No
3. Did all members agree with that decision? A. Note 2 above
4. On what date did this practice start? A. This date is 19 June
5. How was the decision conveyed to all HMLB members? A. We don’t know that it was at the time.
The response was from Bruce Thomas.
This was unacceptable. Was the same thing happening to my emails to Councillors? Yes. On Thursday 14th February I spoke to 12 Councillors and left messages for the others to ring me. Only two of the remaining eight have contacted me. I was distressed to find my opportunity to communicate with my elected representatives was reduced to a three-minute speech to my Local Board once a month, with no opportunity for discussion. I accept that Councillors and Local Board members have a right to block emails addressed to them if they so wish but to have that decision made for them without their knowledge, by a bureaucrat, is to my mind an affront to democracy.
I was appalled to find out on 20th February an email from Bruce Thomas was sent to GRP AC All Local Board members claiming to outline an email sent by Wendy Brandon to me. It was under the heading “Copied email” and maligned another ratepayer but I have certainly never received it.
On 21st February I sent an email to Doug McKay re blocking. On 22nd February I sent an email to Bruce Thomas re the Wendy Brandon email. Copies of both emails were sent to all Councillors and Local Board members. Those emails too were blocked.
On 22nd February I rang Bruce Thomas to ask about the Wendy Brandon email. He said he was not prepared to discuss it with me. I attempted to ring Wendy Brandon but was told any calls were to go to Bruce Thomas.
This Council spends massive amounts of ratepayer money on glossy pamphlets and PR spin to paint a positive picture but also spends massive amounts on keeping recorded criticism to a minimum. Some time ago when I followed up on a complaint and asked for a complaint number I was astounded to be told my complaint had been “cancelled.” When I chased up Jason Marris with regards to my email sent to him on 8th February I was told it had been “deleted”. I was flabbergasted by his assertion “There is no legal requirement for emails sent to a council email address to be delivered unfiltered to that email address.”
Every time there is a Local Body election the public are criticised for apathy. When public submissions are called for, the public are urged to “have their say”. What’s the point if your say can be intercepted by a bureaucrat? Apathy? — no it’s not apathy, it’s cynicism! If every letter, every email, addressed to an elected representative can be intercepted by a bureaucrat who decides whether or not to pass it on, that’s not democracy – that’s DEMOCKERY!
Councillors I urge you as elected representatives to take control of Council and ensure that we operate in an accountable, transparent environment. Bureaucrats should not have the power to block your emails without your authority.
Good on you Gary. The presentation got a great response with Councillors asking for an enquiry.
I was really upset at Doug McKay denying that council is censoring when the evidence of this is in emails from Council staff and is indisputable.
Will watch what happens. I guess that Doug will bluff it out until he goes to his next job.
I have still not received a reply to the email I sent him a week before the Council meeting which read:
I understand that my emails to Councillors and Local Board members have been blocked for about eight months.
1. Why was this instigated?
2. Why did no discussion take place with Councillors or Local Board members before its inception?
3. Were Councillors or Local Board members afforded any opportunity to request that their emails not be blocked?”
I just cant believe bureaucrats have the power to intercept mail to elected representatives in a democratic society. Who gave them the power?
Good on you for exposing such practices.
I don’t believe they have the right to intercept emails but unfortunately they do have the power.
On 11 February 2013 Jason Marris, Acting Manager Democracy Services, claimed “Emails to elected members are often filtered to ensure the most efficient use of their time.” He also claimed “there is no legal requirement for emails sent to a council email address to be delivered unfiltered to that email address.”
The Local Government Act 2002 S 14 (1)(a)(i)states “a local authority should conduct its business in an open transparent and democratically accountable manner.”
S 39 (b) states “a local authority should ensure that the governance structures and processes are effectively open and transparent”
The NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990 S 14 states “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.
On 28 February 2013, following the Council meeting, I received an email from Bruce Thomas saying “I am advised that the email rule redirecting your emails has been removed. Any future emails will go direct to the addressee.”
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