Ombudsman launches 'urgent' investigation into Wellington City Council
An independent public watchdog is investigating Wellington City Council for refusing to share information with ratepayers about the development of Shelly Bay.
Ombudsman Leo Donnelly said he was undertaking an "urgent" investigation into the council's failure to respond to a Stuff request for information related to the $500 million development and its infrastructure, which will come at cost to city ratepayers.
The Ombudsman handles complaints and investigates the administrative conduct of state sector agencies.
The request was made under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA) on January 6. The law requires the council to decide whether it will release the information no later than 20 working days after the request is received.
Not only did the council not respond within this timeframe, it also ignored a further directive from the Ombudsman on May 15 to comply with the law.
In May, Donnelly told the council to remind its staff of their obligations under the act. He recommended the council review its procedures for responding to official information requests, directing it make a decision and communicate it to Stuff as a priority, as well as providing him with a copy of its response.
But despite this ruling, and an instruction to provide the information by May 29, the council still did not respond, prompting a further complaint by Stuff to the Ombudsman.
A local authority's failure to make a decision and communicate it to the requester within the maximum time limit was deemed to be a refusal of a request, Donnelly said.
On Tuesday, he advised the council's chief executive that failing to make a decision on the request or acknowledge whether the council would give obey his recommendations within the specified timeframe was a breach of the law.
"In the present circumstances, I have notified the council of my intention to investigate their decision as a refusal to supply you with this information, and I have asked to be provided with the information at issue by August 2, 2017 at the latest," Donnelly said.
Barbara McKerrow, the council's acting chief executive and chief operating officer, said the council would comply with the Ombudsman's request to provide him with documentation.
"As the council stated publicly on May 17, we are undertaking a review of our systems, processes and structures to improve our performance in responding to official information requests and we will begin implementing improvements shortly."