Ombudsman tells Wellington City Council to review information sharing procedures
An independent public watchdog has ordered Wellington's mayor to review his council's procedures for sharing information with ratepayers.
This week, Ombudsman Leo Donnelly told Wellington City Council to review the way it responded to requests for information made under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA), and to remind its staff of their obligations.
The Ombudsman's ruling coincides with the council's formal review into its LGOIMA resources, which Wellington Mayor Justin Lester is keen to see.
He would make a decision if further action is required after the review has been completed.
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"I'd expect our council to follow its statutory obligations and ensure that we are being transparent and open to the public," Lester said.
The Ombudsman handles complaints and investigates the administrative conduct of state sector agencies.
The move comes after a complaint was made by Stuff when the city council ignored requests for information related to the $500 million development of Wellington's Shelly Bay, which will likely involve the lease or sale of ratepayer-owned land for $7.8m.
The law requires a decision be made on a LGOIMA request no later than 20 working days after it is received.
The Stuff request was received by the council on January 6 and despite numerous reminders, no response has been received.
Donnelly ruled the council's refusal was a failure to meet the requirements of the request. He ordered the council to make a decision and communicate to Stuff as a priority.
Another Stuff request for information relating ratepayer money spent on the Wellington Sevens' tournament was submitted on January 18.
The Ombudsman found the council failed under the act and said he had reminded the council that timeliness, and compliance with LGOIMA, were "fundamental" obligations.
Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams said his organisation filed the most local government requests in the country and Wellington City Council rated in the bottom three for responses.
He found the requests were often ignored and many from his organisation were still overdue.
"Wellington City should be trying to set the benchmark in terms of transparency and I hope the [Ombudsman] recommendations lead to that."
Kane Patena, the council's governance and assurance director, said it had taken the Ombudsman's findings on board and was reviewing its approach to responding to official information requests.
This included an examination of whether it had sufficient capacity to deal with its workload.
The council tried hard to meet obligations under the LGOIMA, and he believed it was as transparent as it could be, he said.
Workload challenges after the November earthquake had affected its ability to provide timely information.
The council's Issues Resolution Office was currently dealing with about 20 LGOIMA requests - that could be described as high-profile, controversial or complex - from the media and other organisations.
The office's three staff were also dealing with many other requests that could be described as routine or non-controversial, he said.
It was difficult for the council to put a precise figure on the number of LGOIMA requests dealt with by other council units, and the extent of those requests would be looked at in the review.
This year, the Ombudsman's office will begin a programme of proactive investigations into agencies' official information practices.
Donnelly said the frequency of delayed complaints, such as those made by Stuff, would be one factor taken into account in deciding which agencies would be included in that programme.