No vindication in KPMG report for Horowhenua council under fire for snooping
OPINION: When a certain report was released this week, it was accompanied by fanfare.
Horowhenua District Council chief executive David Clapperton thanked his supporters for standing by him.
There were strong hints he felt vindicated – that the measures he took to protect staff from abuse were almost justified.
After a torrid time in recent weeks, statements were issued that were designed to cast the council in a better light.
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The facts, however, are just as damning as they were before, if not more so.
We still have a chief executive who screened some emails that were either confidential or of no relevance to his staff. KPMG's report – reviewing the work of an auditor who raised concerns about practices he considered "extremely high risk" – changes none of that.
Apart from not supporting his contentions with documents, the main criticism of the internal auditor is that he went beyond the call of duty. He did what his terms of reference suggested he might do – he flagged "any other issues" that could pose a risk to the council.
KPMG noted the auditor commented on things he was not really employed to look at. If he noticed things that didn't have much to do with sensitive expenditure, he could have simply told senior management, for example.
Ironically, KPMG then offered its own view on this "out of scope" material – that the council should stop intercepting emails and it should come up with better ways to protect staff from abuse.
That means two auditors in a row were not comfortable with the council's approach.
KPMG's report also sheds light on who was behind the expansion of the council's email-interception practices into contentious territory. When Brendan Duffy was mayor, he "arranged" for councillors Michael Feyen and Ross Campbell's emails into the council to be vetted. In 2015, Duffy said messages from the two councillors were unacceptable, so their emails would be screened for the rest of the term.
Feyen would later become a mayoralty candidate – a rival to Duffy – but it would seem it occurred to nobody at this point that the policy should be reviewed.
The council has now quietly conceded defeat, abandoning its controversial practices. But if Clapperton is to carry on leading the council, there is only one appropriate response to KPMG's report – contrition.