Horowhenua councillors derelict in their duty

Horowhenua District Council chief executive David Clapperton, left, with mayor Michael Feyen at the start of his term. ...

Horowhenua District Council chief executive David Clapperton, left, with mayor Michael Feyen at the start of his term. Feyen is on a "blacklist" that allows Clapperton to screen his emails.

EDITORIAL: One of the more troubling things about the Horowhenua District Council email-snooping fiasco is that councillors have had some knowledge of it for years. 

Councillor Victoria Kaye-Simmons says councillors were copied into an email notification on the subject in 2015.

Indeed, mayor Michael Feyen, who has lately been making an issue of it, admits he knew during previous mayor Brendan Duffy's tenure that emails were being blocked or intercepted.

If councillors did not raise questions about the scope of the screening, they let down the people they represent.

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In 2016, council chief executive David Clapperton had the process changed so that he would be the only person who would intercept some emails and then decide if they should be passed on. Remarkably, this included emails between councillors and members of the public.

If there was no actual abuse of power, there was massive potential for it.

The fact a draft internal audit flagged the process as "extremely high risk" is therefore encouraging.

That politicians' emails were screened by council staff is central to the problem. It means Horowhenua people cannot have confidence in their council.

Horowhenua councillors are either indifferent about democracy or they're ignorant about the fundamentals of their line of work. As elected representatives of the people, they should be profoundly concerned about any disruption to lines of communication. It is also not their job to kowtow to the organisation they're supposed to be governing. They're there to guide it, so it's immensely helpful if they're free-thinkers who are in touch with their communities.

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Having elected members' emails screened by council staff blurs the lines of accountability. It is a significant failure of both governance and management that they were apparently happy to debase democracy in this way.

Nobody from the council has yet explained why compromising democracy is so essential for the organisation.

The draft internal audit, written in March, says immediate action is required to reduce risk as a matter of urgency.

There's been no word from the council about whether it's stopped its snooping, but a council that is on the ball would certainly not wait for the draft audit to be peer-reviewed before ceasing this activity.

 - Stuff


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