Editorial: Getting with the times

Last updated 05:00 28/06/2012

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Modern technology is not sitting well with the workings of local government in the Timaru District.

For the second time in a month Councillor Hamish Fraser has found himself at odds over his internet blog.*

First, a couple of the councillor's senior colleagues took issue with him live blogging during meetings, and now there's some hesitation in posting his blog address as a contact point on council documents.

He doesn't have a fax machine, you see.

Before going any further, no-one's done anything wrong here, but some rules need to change. A blog site, and the internet generally, seems a perfectly legitimate place for councillors and ratepayers to mingle.

Everyone can see what's going on.

Which we can't say about telephone or email interactions, for which contact points are allowed on council documents.

Council chief executive Peter Nixon is simply covering the council's behind. Audit Department advice is that if there is a link from a council document then the council needs to monitor the blog, and he hasn't got the staff to do that. Fair enough.

The concern, apparently, is that a councillor's personal view could be interpreted as the council's.

But what if the councillor has a prominent disclaimer on his site? As Cr Fraser has. These views are mine, it says, not the council's.

Letters to the editor from councillors that we publish in this paper don't carry that disclaimer. And neither should they. It's obvious they are expressing personal views, just as it's obvious that Cr Fraser's blog site is his own.

Which leaves us where?

Going back to the Audit Department, to suggest it get with the times?

Alter the council's code of conduct to allow blogs, but set some parameters? And then set some for phone calls and emails.

Or let Cr Fraser have his blog listed as a contact point, and then ... just wait.

* I feel a little silly doing this, but in case you don't know what a blog is, it's short for web log, which is short for personal writings that appear on that internet thing.

Another thing: In yesterday's editorial I said failure to have lifejackets on a boat wasn't illegal. It actually is. The law states that sufficient lifejackets for all people on board must be carried (and these must be worn at times of heightened risk). It is still not compulsory to wear lifejackets at all times though, which was my main point.

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- The Timaru Herald

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