Address to Accountability & Performance Committee 13 March 2013 by Gary Osborne
Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The last time I addressed this committee was in February 2011 over my concerns about the Film Studios.
I’m here today to speak on Council censorship and to call for an independent enquiry.
On 28 February I spoke at a Council meeting where it was unanimously agreed that the practice of blocking emails to elected representatives should cease. It was reported in the Herald next day that the CEO, Mr McKay had said there had been no blocking or censoring of anybody’s email, but since the start of the Auckland Council three people had been “case managed”. I do not wish to enter into a game of semantics but as far as I’m concerned if my emails to elected representatives are intercepted and don’t reach their intended destination they have been blocked.
Since then I have received messages of support from a Councillor, several Local Board members and numerous members of the public. At the Council meeting I tabled an email sent to Doug McKay on 21 February and an email dated 22 February sent to Electoral Officer, Bruce Thomas, to whom I have been requested to direct all communication.
The Council has called for an investigation by a team led by Doug McKay into the blocking. This is totally unsatisfactory as the directives were initiated by Doug McKay. It is against all the principles of natural justice that a man should be judge and jury for his own trial. I have raised the matter with the Minister of Local Government, Hon Chris Tremain. My questions to Doug McKay on 21 February re blocking and the answers from Bruce Thomas on 4 March were:
1. Why was this instigated? A As advised in an email sent to you on 22 June 2012, the case managing of your emails was instigated to manage the large amount of correspondence generated.
2. Why did no discussion take place on this with Councillors and Local Board members before its inception? A It was a decision of the Chief Executive.
3. Were Councillors or Local Board members afforded any opportunities to request that their emails not be blocked? A Yes, recently the Elected Members were afforded opportunity.
I would like to point out that as late as 1 March my emails were still being blocked.
There was a suggestion in the Herald article on 1 March that I had rung a council officer 17 times in one hour. I have refuted that and on 3 March asked for substantiation of the claim. I received an email on 5 March from Information Advisor, Blair Doherty, saying my request will be treated as a LGOIMA request.
Elected representatives I respect your right to block my emails if it is your wish but I absolutely abhor the idea of a bureaucrat making that decision for you. Indeed only a few days after the unanimous decision by Auckland Council to order the cessation of blocking I received an email from a Councillor asking me to “reframe” from sending him any more emails. I assumed he meant refrain so I have removed his name from my list of representatives. I respect his right to make such a request just as I respect his right not to read daily newspapers if he so chooses.
Invariably in the past when I have raised concerns I have been proven to be right. Why does Council work so hard to conceal facts? My questions have always been fair, seeking relevant information, but have time and time again been treated dismissively. Specific questions deserve specific answers.
Rather than attack the argument, so often this Council embarks on a tactic of denigration by insinuation. Unfounded claims by Council are then dismissed as errors or oversights or misinterpretations. On 20 February Bruce Thomas sent an email to all Local Board members that claimed General Counsel, Wendy Brandon had sent an email to me about another ratepayer. Under “Copied email” it read “Gary You will be aware of Grace Haden’s recent complaints in relation to the diversion of her emails to a single point of contact in Auckland Council. Grace is one of 3 vexatious litigants whose emails to council are directed to a single point of contact……..”
On 21 February 2013 Wendy Brandon sent an email to Bruce Thomas saying she had not sent any emails to me. She stated “The email below appears to be an edited version of an email sent by me to Grace Haden.”
On 22 February an email was sent by Bruce Thomas to all Local Board Members under the heading “Erratum” saying “The “Copied email” that was included in my email to you was intended for internal council use only.”
When I spoke to Bruce Thomas on 22 February he said he would need to speak to Wendy Brandon first and made no mention of the email Wendy Brandon had sent him on 21 February. His 4 March reply to my 5 specific questions was totally inadequate.
Ladies and gentlemen, my dealings with Auckland Council have reminded me of that old British program “Yes Minister” but so far I’ve failed to see the funny side.
It is entirely inappropriate for the CEO to investigate himself. I urge you to call for an independent enquiry.