Another report information wrongly withheld by Auckland Council

RNZ reports on a third case where mayor Phil Goff and the Auckland City Council withheld information requested under the Official Information act that required intervention by the Ombudsman’s Office – Auckland Council stalled release of reports

The release of the $935,000 consultants’ report on a downtown stadium on Friday was the third time RNZ had to resort to the Ombudsman’s Office to extract public information.

The information was eventually found to have been wrongly withheld by Auckland Council.

All three directly involve the mayor Phil Goff.

In the latest case, RNZ had requested at the end of November 2017 the “pre-feasability” study looking at the prospects for a downtown stadium.

Advocacy for a closer look at the stadium had been part of Mr Goff’s election campaign.

Mr Goff personally called for the report soon after he was elected Mayor in October 2016, following 33 years in national politics.

Consultants PwC were engaged in January, although that move was not publicly announced until March, and the draft was delivered on time in June to the council agency Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA).

The council argued initially that the report was only a draft, and therefore not required to be released under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA).

Wrong, said Ombudsman Leo Donnelly in an opinion he sent to Auckland Council and released to RNZ.

“There is no basis for a blanket withholding of drafts under LGOIMA until they are completed and finalised,” he wrote.

“To have a standard approach of withholding draft reports until they have been fully signed off, leaves the process open to exploitation by agencies who want to hold off release of information until it is most convenient.”

Read the Ombudsman’s opinion on Auckland Council’s arguments here (693.4KB)

In negotiations between the council and the Ombudsman, a senior council legal manager had also rejected the notion that public interest was not a ground for release.

“Any interest in the contents of the Report is tangential to the overall stadium issue, and falls into the category of being interesting to the public as opposed to being of legitimate concern to the public.”

Wrong, opined the Ombudsman.

“This is a project which, were the matter to progress, would involve the use of significant public funds, either through the council or central government,” wrote Leo Donnelly.

“There is a public interest in the Council being transparent at each step of the process.”

If draft reports could be kept secret under the OIA then many reports may never reach a final stage.

RNZ understands that the mayor’s office has been the key player in seeking the withholding of the “draft” report, and it was the mayor’s office which managed the reports’ release on Friday.

It also allowed Mr Goff to have a “conversation” with Finance Minister Grant Robertson on the subject, just a week ago.

It’s a re-run of RNZ’s effort to get a report commissioned by Mr Goff on the future of the vehicle import trade on Auckland’s waterfront.

Again, moving Auckland’s port long-term and the space-hungry vehicle import trade in the shorter term, were Goff campaign battle cries.

Again, fresh in office, Mr Goff ordered a report on the costs and benefits, and a draft was completed in May 2017.

It didn’t support Mr Goff’s view that the trade was a blight on the waterfront. RNZ’s request for a copy in July was declined.

Goff seems to have transferred poor OIA practices of central Government to the Auckland Council.

The outcome of the Ombudsman’s Office investigation into Auckland Council conduct around public information release, is still awaited.

But will it make any difference to Goff’s delaying tactics?

From Goff’s campaign policy document:

Council is regarded as an organisation that needs to cut fat from its system, become more responsive to the needs of its residents and ratepayers, and to be more transparent in how it spends its money.

Transparency seems to have morphed into secrecy. And the fat cutting? Auckland Council paying $45 million for ‘communications and engagement’

A leaked, confidential Auckland Council report has revealed the local body is spending $45 million running its various communications departments which employ 234 staff.

Critics have called for the council to tighten its belt and drastically cut the number of “spin doctors” it employs.

Mayor Phil Goff, who campaigned on tightening the city’s excess spending, addressed the reviews, which he instigated, at a meeting with the North Harbour business community in August.

“I’m spending your money,” he said. “You need to know you’re getting value for money in what we spend.”

Except when Goff wants to use his comms staff to keep things secret.


Goff is being interviewed on RNZ now.

Goff denies playing any part in the withholding of information. He says it follows a process. That process seems to be severely flawed.

He expects the Council to take on board the Ombudsman’s comments but then puts forward reasons (makes excuses) for not releasing information.

 

5 Comments

  1. Gezza

     /  May 21, 2018

    The only administration that seems to have had any actual commitment to releasing official information under the OIA was Clark’s. All governments since then have gone backwards & got more secretive, and it looks like some Councils are following suit.

  2. Blazer

     /  May 21, 2018

    transparency at the council?…ask..Penny Bright.

    • Gezza

       /  May 21, 2018

      Has she told anyone what arrangement she’s come to with the Council? 😳

  1. Another report information wrongly withheld by Auckland Council — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition