Brian Rudman wrote:
Let’s hear it for Auckland councillor Sandra Coney. After a three-month slugfest with the bureaucrats, she has forced them to concede the politicians’ right to see background information and legal advice held by the bureaucracy. …
At the beginning of June, and concerned about the haste involved in preparing the draft Unitary Plan, Ms Coney became aware that a team of senior outside Resource Management Act lawyers and advisers had been commissioned to review the document and ensure it was legally accurate and complied with all relevant legislation and statutory requirements.
As a councillor, responsible for making decisions about the document and eventually approving it, Ms Coney requested a copy of the expert review. She also wrote to chief executive Doug McKay saying, “It is astonishing that I should be expected to participate in workshops and meetings on the Unitary Plan, and make decisions about the UP, but I am denied access to information that the staff have.”
She said she was not a member of the public but “a member of the governing body” and “I consider it essential to my governance role that I am able to access what I believe I need to make good decisions. I believe that the people who elect me would expect I can access any information held by the council and accessible by staff.”
Three weeks later she was told, not by a bureaucrat but by Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse, that the bureaucrats wouldn’t hand it over. Chief planning officer Roger Blakeley then wrote refusing her access under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, which she argued was not only irrelevant but ridiculous, as one of the clauses he used as justification was the need to protect “free and frank expressions of opinions by or between or to members or officers or employees”.
I am of the view that a director (or Councillor) should have legal access to pretty much any information they wish to have, so long as it is not personally sensitive (ie staff HR files). You are responsible for an organisation and it is up to you, not the staff, to decide what you need to know.
Having said that I think a director should not be getting involved in operational matters and any such requests should be rare and for a specific purpose. However the decision is for them, not their peers or the staff.
So good on Sandra Coney for standing up for her rights. Her request seemed more than reasonable.
Tags: Auckland Council, Sandra Coney