AC Unreasonable Customer Complainants

On 22 September 2016 the Chief Executive of Auckland Council placed severe restrictions on my ability to communicate with Auckland Council. Here is a chronology of what has taken place leading up to those restrictions and what has taken place since the restrictions were imposed.

On 9 September 2016 I sent a LGOIMA request to Auckland Council.

On 12 September2016 I received an unsigned email acknowledgement that stated “We will respond to your request within 20 working days of receipt of your request.” This is despite the requirement of Section 13(1) of LGOIMA stating requests should be fulfilled “a soon as reasonably practicable.”

I rang to find out: 1) Who was processing my request.  2) What stage it had reached.  It didn’t take long to realise I was being given the run-around. I complained to the Chief Executive, Stephen Town on 22 September 2016. His response was to launch a series of unsubstantiated allegations against me which he used as a basis for restricting all my phone calls to the Call Centre and all correspondence with Council to one person, Dayle Muru.

Mr Town wrote “You are asked to immediately stop

-Sending emails or making phone calls with a threatening or abusive tone

-Making personal insults towards any staff member or council contractors.

-Escalating calls to senior managers without giving staff time to respond to your initial contact

On 23 September 2016 I refuted Mr Town’s allegations and asked him to address 15 specific concerns arising from his unsubstantiated allegations.

On 7 October 2016, having received no reply, I lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman.

On 10 October 2016 the Ombudsman assigned me a reference number.

On 20 October 2016, having still received no reply from Stephen Town, I lodged a Privacy Request for a copy of “all personal information pertaining to the allegations made in Mr Town’s letter of 22 September.”

On 4 November 2016 Dayle Muru gave a generalised response on behalf of Mr Town stating inter alia:

Your request for telephone transcripts. Council records calls that came through 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. Therefore we are unable to provide you transcripts in relation to the behaviour that led to Stephen’s letter to you.

Request for abusive emails  As mentioned above, the behaviour complained of was a result of phone calls with staff and do not relate to emails”.

Hang on! Stephen Town had accused me of sending threatening and abusive emails.

In a separate letter dated 4 November Dayle Muru advised me re my Privacy Request “This information is refused as the disclosure would involve the unwarranted disclosure of the affairs of another individual in accordance with section29(1)(a) the Privacy Act (the Act) and would breach legal professional privilege in accordance with section 29(1)(f) of the Act.

On 22 November I lodged a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner.

On 18 January 2017  the Privacy Commissioner’s office advised me they had written to Council asking them to provide the withheld information.

On 21 February 2017 Tinus Schutte from the Ombudsman’s office said they understood I had a solicitor acting for me and if so it was likely they would discontinue their enquiries. If he did not hear back from me by 28 February 2017 they would close the file.

On 28 February 2017 I advised Tinus Schutte my solicitor was no longer acting for me.

On 24 March 2017 I wrote to Dayle Muru asking what was happening regarding my six-monthly UCC (unreasonable customer conduct) review.

On 28 March 2017 Dayle Muru advised me the UCC review would be “carried out by the legal team and Chief Executive and will take approximately two weeks to be thoroughly investigated.”

On 30 March 2017 I sent a number of character references to both the Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioner from people I had been involved with in Council related activities over the years.

On 7 April 2017 I asked Dayle Muru why the review was not being carried out in accordance with Auckland Council’s stated policy.

Under Council’s UCC Policy published on the Council’s website it states:

“7.5      Periodic Reviews

Alll 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 or restriction was initially imposed, or continued.

The case manager will invite the complainant to participatein 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.”

On 22 April 2017 I again asked Dayle Muru why the UCC review was not being conducted in accordance with Auckland Council’s stated policy.

On 24 April 2017 Dayle Muru told me she would discuss the matter with Sally Woods and get back to me.

On 27 April 2017 Dayle Muru invited me to make written submissions on my review and said if they did not receive a response by Friday 5 May they would assume I had no wish to participate.

On 1 May 2017 Lynley Cahill from The Privacy Commissioner’s office advised me the Council had advised her they were only seeking to withhold information under section 29(1)(a) of the Privacy Act and not section 29(1)(f). Accordingly she had ordered the Council to release some documentation to me and recommended the Council should release a summary of two other documents. She said the Council had agreed to do so.

The documents provided that day by Council did not substantiate Mr Town’s allegations. Indeed an email from Dayle Muru to Sally Woods dated 6 October 2016 (some 2 weeks after Mr Town’s allegations) stated

“Hi Sally,

I have listened to a number of calls concentrating on the calls that were longer to see if during those calls 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 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 the 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 the 8th of 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.

Kind regards

Dayle Muru”

On 4 May 2017 I forwarded my submission to Dayle Muru.

On 5 May 2017 Dayle Muru acknowledged receipt of my submission, advised me it had been passed on to the legal team, and would be included in my review for a final decision by Stephen Town by 19 May. She also informed me she was leaving Auckland Council.

On 9 May 2017 Sally Woods advised me the process they were following was in line with their policy. I asked who my contact person was to replace Dayle Muru. She replied “The issues resolution team will co-ordinate responses to you until the outcome of the review.” I sent a copy of “7.5 Periodic Reviews” to her and asked Sally 1,Who is the nominated senior manager? 2.Who is the independent person?

On 10 May 2017 Sally Woods replied “The “senior manager” who will carry out your review is council’s most senior manager, the Chief Executive, in accordance with the policy, and as we have advised. However other senior managers are involved in the process, which is what I was trying to explain. As Customer Experience Manager, responsible for administering the policy, and as Dayle’s manager I am collating the information which will then be checked by the Legal team, and by council’s Executive Officer, before referring on to the Chief Executive to complete the review and advise you of the outcome.”

On 12 May 2017 Sally Woods advised me “Your review is now with the legal team. They will be advising on whether we are following policy and process amongst other things. I will confirm the independent person following that advice..”

On 15 May 2017 I rang the Ombudsman’s office and left a message for Mr Schutte to ring me.

On 17 May 2017 Sally Woods advised me “The legal team have recommended we seek an external independent review before the Chief Executive makes his final review of the restriction to your access to council. This will add to our timeline for completion of the review. To allow sufficient time for their review and any questions or further information they may require, I anticipate another two weeks will be required.”

On 19 May 2017 Mrs Longdin-Prisk from the Ombudsman’s office rang me and I asked if I could have a progress report on my complaint lodged on 7 October 2016.

On 25 May 2017 Mr Schutte sent me an email advising he had assigned my case to Mrs Longdin-Prisk and she would update me every six weeks.

On 29 May  2017 I posed three questions to Sally Woods.

  1.  Who is the person in charge of the independent review?

2.   What are his/her credentials?

3.   When will I be advised of the outcome?

On 31 May 2017 Sally Woods responded “I am still waiting to hear back from our external review. I’ll be in touch as soon as I’m able.” I emailed back that I would appreciate answers to my questions. Her response was “I’m sorry it is taking so long, and that I have had to extend our original completion date. The reason for this is to ensure that we are fair to you, and complete the review correctly.”

When the Super City was first announced I went into it with an open mind prepared to see if the promises of accountability and transparency were delivered. There was also talk of cost efficiencies and economies of scale. Unfortunately the ratepayer ability to have a democratic say in this organisation has taken a nose-dive. Although we often hear rhetoric about wanting to hear the views of ratepayers, woe betide any ratepayer who dares criticise the council. The Council is run by bureaucrats who are accountable to an autocrat. Councillors have little effective input into the running of Auckland Council. To tell me I have had to wait for more than 2 months for a review of my UCC in order to be “fair” to me only rubs salt in the wound.

 

 

 

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