Details of 'jobs for boys' talks stay under wraps
The Christchurch City Council has drawn a veil of secrecy over staff involvement in a new policy to rid the organisation of cronyism.
The council's legal unit refuses to release details of internal discussions between staff who have been developing the procurement policy over the past year.
City councillors are scheduled to debate and vote on the policy today.
A proposed new procurement policy was introduced to the council by Cr Glenn Livingstone in July last year as part of a campaign to change the council's controversial contracting practices.
Other councillors, including Tim Carter, were also concerned at the awarding of untendered contracts and wanted an end to "jobs for the boys".
Livingstone said he was alarmed it had taken so long to get a policy through for final council approval.
The Press lodged an Official Information Act request last month asking for copies of internal emails, minutes, reports and briefing notes between council staff who were working on the policy.
In a reply this week, council legal services unit manager Chris Gilbert took issue with the July 2011 date and said it was not brought to council until a workshop was held on May 22 this year.
On that basis, there were "no emails, minutes, reports and briefing notes between council staff" until May 22.
Gilbert said the council was suppressing internal emails after that date "to maintain the effective control of public affairs through the free and frank expression of opinions by or between officers and councillors".
"You will appreciate that it is important for council officers to bounce ideas around when developing policies, and withholding such information is necessary to maintain effective conduct of public affairs," he said.
"Council does not consider that there are any public-interest considerations that outweigh the need to withhold the specific information."
The council released copies of a workshop presentation, draft procurement policies and minutes of council and subcommittee meetings.
Livingstone said the council's interpretation of the dates was "surprising", and Carter considered the response "ludicrous".
"It's astonishing how they can develop the policy in the months before May without talking to each other," Carter said. "How do you do that? It's just ludicrous.
"The council needs to be more open in how we develop policies and release information. It needs to lose its silo mentality, which was criticised in the recent communications review."
Livingstone said the response from Gilbert over the dates confused matters.
"The whole timeline is actually seamless, from July last year through to now," he said. "The process in arriving at transparency needs to be transparent itself. There must have been correspondence between staff."
Despite that, corporate support manager Sue Chappell had produced a good draft for councillors to consider, he said.
Corporate services general manager Paul Anderson said yesterday that the new policy had been "substantially developed" before the September 2010 earthquake.
"With the organisation's attention focused on recovery from the earthquakes during 2011 especially, we did not take this back to council until May 22 ," he said.
"Council had requested in August 2011 that the procurement policy be brought back in this time frame."
Staff had had "a number of discussions and debates" in developing the policy, but the staff recommendation to council was more "relevant for the purpose of your request", he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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