Horowhenua District Council's new email-blocking policy starts

The Horowhenua District Council has adopted a policy that will allow emails to staff to be vetted.
KAROLINE TUCKEY/STUFF

The Horowhenua District Council has adopted a policy that will allow emails to staff to be vetted.

The Horowhenua District Council has adopted a new email interception policy after abandoning previous controversial vetting practice. 

The council ceased its snooping practices in August after leaked documents revealed blacklisted members of the public and some elected representatives were having emails to council staff intercepted by chief executive David Clapperton.

On Wednesday, councillors pushed through an amended policy.  

Horowhenua mayor Michael Feyen is waiting on a response from the Ombudsman's office over an email-blocking scandal.
DAVID UNWIN/STUFF

Horowhenua mayor Michael Feyen is waiting on a response from the Ombudsman's office over an email-blocking scandal.

It allows emails to council staff to be vetted by council-appointed privacy officers, rather than Clapperton, but councillors will not have emails intercepted.

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Elected members would instead be offered support to manage software that could treat troublesome emails as spam.

At Wednesday's meeting, Cr Barry Judd said the policy covered not only the physical wellbeing of council staff, but also mental wellbeing.

Clapperton, who was not at the meeting, has previously said he vetted emails to protect his staff from abusive messages. 

Cr Ross Campbell said the policy did not  deal with past email vetting problems, so he abstained from voting.

Campbell was among those who had emails intercepted.

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Cr Christine Mitchell said the policy was not about fixing past issues. It was about ensuring there was a safe communication policy for the future. 

Mayor Michael Feyen was absent from the meeting, due to illness, but said on Thursday it was clear other councillors did not want a probe into past practices. 

He said the previous email-blocking practices, which spanned six years, needed to be investigated. 

Feyen's emails were among those vetted from April 2015 until elections in 2016, upon request from the previous mayor Brendan Duffy. 

"It seriously disrupted my ability to even be a councillor in the past," Feyen said.

 

He wanted to be reassured information  that could have affected Environment Court hearings and iwi relations was not stopped from getting through.

Feyen has lodged a complaint to the Ombudsman's office.

On Thursday, council spokeswoman Lacey Wilson said no-one's emails were being vetted yet. 

During Wednesday's meeting, Cr Piri-Hira Tukapua called for an investigation into Feyen's external "advocate" Christine Toms after she wrote an email on behalf of the mayor.

The email, which contained a message from the mayor requesting to see the qualifications of a senior council staffer, was sent by Toms to Feyen and carbon-copied to Clapperton.

At the meeting, Tukapua was critical of Toms for signing off the email as though it came from the mayor.

"I don't think we should tolerate this kind of behaviour. It seriously damages confidence in good governance."

Speaking away from the meeting, Toms said she accidentally copied Clapperton into the email, which was only intended for Feyen.

"I did not purport to be the mayor. This was a suggestion Michael and I had discussed during the previous week."

Any investigation should include checking whether senior members of the council had the correct qualifications, Toms said. 

Councillors Jo Mason, Barry Judd and Ross Brannigan supported an investigation.  

Brannigan said it was  important that elected members had confidence in the office of the mayor. 

Feyen, who has a council-appointed personal assistant, said he supported Toms, who did "fabulous work" for him. 

"Toms is my advocate, trying to help me through the nastier side of life in this council.

"She sent me an email about ideas because people need to know what the backgrounds or the education history of some of those in top positions are."

Deputy mayor Wayne Bishop said the council was seeking advice on whether an investigation was appropriate.

 - Stuff

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