As ratepayers we find massive amounts of our rates dollars are spent producing glossy pamphlets with generalised PR spin. However, if we have a specific concern or complaint the communication is quite different —tardy, vague and sometimes even non-existent.
On 19 January 2011 I had a meeting with Doug McKay, the newly appointed CEO of Auckland Council. The meeting was congenial. I expressed concern about wastage of ratepayer funds. I pointed out we had been promised delivery of accountability and transparency. We specifically discussed two issues I have had long-held concerns about: a) The Film Studios (particularly the involvement of Tony Tay)
b) Swimming Pool Fencing
Two weeks later, on 1 February 2011, Tony Tay Film Ltd (the major partner of the Film Studios) went into receivership.
On 4 February 2011 I received an email from Doug McKay saying “As you predicted. Where to from here is what’s exercising my mind. Any ideas welcome.”
Throughout the next year it became apparent to me if I rang the Call Centre asking for a specific person I was being given the run-around. On 12 February 2012 I sent the following email to the Mayor.
1. I, and many members of the public are concerned about the lack of transparency in Auckland Council’s Complaints system.
2. I have been told a directive has been issued to call centre staff on how to handle incoming calls from me.
3. Under LGOIMA could you please provide me with full details of that directive or any relevant correspondence regarding contact with any particular Council officers.
On 15 February I received an email from Darryl Griffin, Manager Democracy Services saying my complaint had been referred to him.
He said he was not treating it as a LGOIMA request as he could answer the questions immediately. He said Doug McKay had asked him to work through issues I raised. He stated “There is no email trail to that effect but I have my instructions from the Chief Executive and I am implementing them. The call centre will be requested to refer your inquiries to me.” There was no mention at the time of any intention to block or censor emails I sent to Council staff.
On 5 March 2012 I complained to the Ombudsmen. That turned out to be a waste of time.
On 14 June I asked Darryl Griffin for a copy of the directive to Call Centre Staff.
On 21 June he responded enclosing a MEMO from Doug McKay dated 19 June 2012 (some 5 days after my request). It stated
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 Osbourne, Customer Services (including the call centres) and the Mayor’s Office are aware of this directive.
I was certainly not made aware it was also the intention to block my emails to elected representatives – Councillors and Local Board members.
On 8 February 2013 I discovered my emails to elected representatives at the advertised contact addresses on the Council website were being intercepted.
On 21 February 2013 I sent an email to Doug McKay.
“I understand that my emails to Councillors and Local Board members have been blocked for about 8 months.
1. Why was this instigated?
2. Why did no discussion take place on this 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?”
On 28 February 2013, having received neither acknowledgement nor reply I addressed a Full Council meeting on this matter. Council voted to “Refer the complaint regarding censorship to the Chief Executive for investigation and a report back.” Outside the meeting Doug McKay claimed the council had not blocked or censored anybody’s email. Inside the meeting Mr McKay was instructed to lift the block on correspondence until his investigation was complete. To me the investigation of a CEO into his own actions was a nonsense. Nevertheless, that is what Councillors voted for.
On 4 March 2013 Bruce Thomas, Electoral Officer, answered the three questions put to Doug McKay on 21 February as follows:
1. 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. It was a decision of the Chief Executive.
3. Yes, recently the Elected Members were afforded opportunity.
(This was only after I had addressed Council on 28 February.)
On 13 March I spoke to the Accountability and Performance Committee. Initially the Chairman, Richard Northey, attempted to block me but I lobbied support from a number of Councillors for my right to speak. As it was, he cut me off half-way through my speech before my time was up.
On 15 March Doug McKay wrote to another ratepayer “There was never an intention to block emails or withhold information from elected members.”
On 2 April I received an email from Jason Marris, Acting Manager Democracy Services, saying “Please find attached a memorandum sent to His Worship the Mayor and Councillors on Thursday 28 March 2013 from the Chief Executive in response to the 28 Feb 2013 Governing Body resolution.” The three-page memo was, in my opinion, inadequate.
On 22 April I posted a letter to Len Brown asking if he was satisfied with the response.
On 8 May he responded saying “Given that Mr McKay has yet to finalise his report and the governing body has yet to review its findings, it would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment further.”
Over a period of time I have sought answers to serious questions about a number of issues: Swimming Pool Fencing, Film Studios, Boat Building Subsidies, Te Atatu Road widening.
It is frustrating to time and time again, after a process of obfuscation and procrastination, be supplied with flannel and excuses, rather than facts and explanations. May we one day actually see transparency and accountability and be given the right to be heard in our democratic system for which we give thanks to our deceased servicemen every Anzac Day.