Council says no to blog link

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 13:25 27/06/2012
Councillor Hamish Fraser
JOHN BISSET/Fairfax NZ

IN TOUCH: Councillor Hamish Fraser wants the council's website to include a link to his blog among his contact details.

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A Timaru district councillor is "puzzled" by council management's refusal to link to his blog.

Hamish Fraser has been running his blog since he was elected to the council two years ago, and has even live-blogged council meetings.

However, recently he asked management to include his blog address on the council's website.

"We're in the middle of a representation review, which has pretty big implications for the community, particularly Geraldine, Temuka and Pleasant Point," Cr Fraser said.

"I would have thought the more community engagement we had on this topic, the better.

"For some people, the blog is the way they interact with me. Certainly a lot of people are finding it easier to comment on the blog or email me than give me a call," he said.

However, Timaru District Council management told Cr Fraser that it would not include the link to his blog as the "council has no control over the quality, accuracy or opinion contained in your blog".

Cr Fraser said this was "a bit strange".

Surely it was in the interests of democracy to make those contact details as varied and easy to access as possible, he said.

"There are several other councils which link to their councillors' blogs, so it's not a new idea."

While the live-blogging side got a bit frantic, many of his entries took a day or so to write, he said.

"You have to be very careful about what you say.

"Once it goes up online, anyone can access it, but part of my role as councillor is showing the whole picture of what we do, so people better understand it," Cr Fraser said.

He has – rather unsurprisingly – blogged on the matter.

So far, he appears to have received a supportive response from readers, which you can read on http://hamish.co/.

CODE OF CONDUCT DISCUSSED

If councillors' blog site links can't be included in council documents, then surely councillors' phone numbers and email addresses should also be banned?

That's the question Cr Steve Earnshaw posed at yesterday's Timaru District Council meeting after chief executive Peter Nixon refused to let Cr Hamish Fraser include his blog site details beside his phone number and email address in council documents.

Mr Nixon said the issue was not straightforward, adding that if the council provided a link to a councillor's blog it could be interpreted that the council supported the views in the blog.

Audit Department advice said if there was a link from a council document then the council needed to monitor the blog, which Mr Nixon said the TDC did not have the staffing to do.

He had no problem with councillors having blogs as long as they were separate from council sites.

Mayor Janie Annear's concerns revolved around the need for information on council websites to be totally objective, especially on issues such as representation review which the council was going through at present. If there was a link to a blog, there was a risk it could contain a councillor's personal view which might influence the voter.

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"You are not monitoring my email and telephone so this is no different," Cr Earnshaw said, adding a blog was more transparent as it was available to everyone to view on the internet.

Cr Tracy Tierney saw it as no different to a councillor writing a letter to the editor stating a view. She saw blogs as a way of encouraging open communication with ratepayers and residents, and her blog was in addition to the conversations she had with ratepayers every day.

Mrs Annear suggested the councillors' code of conduct needed to be looked at and possibly amended (in relation to blogs) especially as it was election year next year.

Cr Fraser did not see any need for change, noting many MPs already had blogs and Twitter accounts.

- The Timaru Herald

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