Are Councils fibbing in response to official information requests

November 12th, 2013 at 10:30 am by David Farrar

The Taxpayers Unions blogs:

It appears that the councils of two of our largest cities do not take freedom of information laws seriously. As a constitutional lawyer and advocate for government transparency, I am deeply saddened.

Cost of ’s website – $317,726 or $1.7million? Depends who’s asking…

Last week the Taxpayers’ Union criticised Marlborough City Council for spending $410,000 on web design and development. We made a feature of it on our website and our analysis was even covered in the local paper. We thought the amount was outrageous – ‘$100,000 more than Wellington City’s award winning website’.

We were wrong. Though the Wellington City Council told us it had spent $317,726, it had told someone else it had spent $1.7million on the same wellington.govt.nz site. Though we’ve written (and spoken) to the Council’s CEO, the inconsistency has not been explained. We’ve posted the two information request responses, as well as the ‘please explain’ letterhere.

When a Council provides too massively different figures for the cost of their website, that’s a very bad look. Far too many Councils seem to have an attitude that requests are a matter of voluntary compliance, not law.

But seems to be playing games also, denying a trip even occurred:

We asked Auckland Council about a mayoral trip to China – officials suggested the trip never happened

Over some months, a number of Taxpayers’ Union volunteers have made official information requests relating to items of sensitive expenditure such as credit cards and international travel.

We had a tip that related to inappropriate credit card expenditure by the interpreter who accompanied Auckland’s Mayor on a trip to China in January or February 2013. We made an official information request to Auckland Council to identify the Council official so we could review the expenses.

Because we did not know the precise dates of the January/February 2013 trip, but understood that it was the Mayor’s most recent trip to China, we couched the request in those terms.

The Council’s response and the attachment is here and here. They refers to the identity of an interpreter who travelled with the Mayor on a trade delegation to China in April 2012. No mention is made of the early 2013 trip.

On Friday afternoon, the Taxpayers’ Union spoke to an official at the Auckland Council who confirmed that the Council misled us.

Again, it just isn’t good enough.

The other issue I have noticed with some Councils is that they have a policy where they will charge for any LGOIMA request that takes more than 30 minutes to respond to, regardless of how reasonable it is. Charging should be for requests which are hugely excessive, not for any time over half an hour.

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24 Responses to “Are Councils fibbing in response to official information requests”

  1. rouppe (971 comments) says:

    So is it you or Whale that are chasing this? He’s saying the same thing on his blog, making it sound like he’s the one doing the digging

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  2. flipper (4,065 comments) says:

    Rouppe….

    It appears that both the Whale and TU are on the job….and that Orsman is doing his best to row Red Len’s boat…. as per normal

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  3. burt (8,269 comments) says:

    flipper

    Please, don’t mention Len and the man in the boat in the same sentence ;-)

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  4. Kleva Kiwi (289 comments) says:

    So digging for more dirt?
    Did Len and his mistress go on a dirty holiday to China at the Auckland ratepayers expense?
    Has Len resigned yet…

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  5. flipper (4,065 comments) says:

    Burt…
    OK…but I was slow this morning :-)

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  6. burt (8,269 comments) says:

    Has Len resigned yet…

    A lefty resign for misleading the public and possibly misusing public funds …. No chance – the entire Labour party would need resign if that were the standard !

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  7. Ed Snack (1,872 comments) says:

    Len won’t resign, period. With the full backing of the local media and the full array of publicly funded spin doctors plus the entire political left supporting him (and getting their pound of flesh in the form of the “living wage”) what’s to make him ? Given that (although it would be illegal to do so) the council will be instructed to cover up any malfeasance and refuse to provide any information that could be used to bring charges, how is pressure going to be applied ?

    A sense of shame doesn’t apply to Len (or most of the left), and anyway, laws are for the little people, those inferior types without both the power and the “mission”.

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  8. Nick R (507 comments) says:

    I think it is fair enough for Councils to charge lobby groups like the Taxpayer’s Union. They can make a truckload of requests and it all costs someone’s time to respond. The information is rarely just sitting around. The requests are usually for the purposes of advancing the lobbyist’s own political hobby horse rather than for personal information. I know of one instance of a DHB which found that 80% of its OIA requests came from one person.

    I think it would be healthy for Councils etc to publish the cost of responding to information requests

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  9. Doc (91 comments) says:

    I’d suggest that the Auckland response could be relatively easily passed off as a misunderstanding… The request was for information about a recent trip to *China*. And that information was given accordingly. (failing to make the pedantic distinction that Hong Kong is in fact a “Special Administrative Region” of China.)

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  10. seanmaitland (500 comments) says:

    Ouch – the Wellington City Council website is not worth anywhere near that amount. I would be interested to see what bunch of muppets built it.

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  11. thedavincimode (6,759 comments) says:

    The date mad Len entered into the register was in fact 14 Jan not the later date referred to by WO. Not sure what the significance of that is. Two trips? I certainly hope so.

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  12. kowtow (8,475 comments) says:

    Bit ironic that this post about withholding official information follows one extolling Aotearoa’s being 4 th in the world on ‘open data”.

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  13. thedavincimode (6,759 comments) says:

    Doc

    Inevitably what you suggest will be what they suggest when asked to explain the omission. But the register of pecuniary interests (or whatever it is) explanation will necessitate slightly more creativity – which I’m confidant will be forthcoming. We all look forward the fourth explanation.

    Len might have to plead the Bernie Ecclestone. Too busy jet-setting and running the great city of Auckland to have time to get it right.

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  14. RichardX (326 comments) says:

    thedavincimode (5,496) Says:
    November 12th, 2013 at 12:07 pm
    The date mad Len entered into the register was in fact 14 Jan not the later date referred to by WO. Not sure what the significance of that is. Two trips? I certainly hope so.

    I thought the same thing too but on closer inspection it can be viewed as a very skinny 2 in the date

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  15. Keeping Stock (10,340 comments) says:

    The worm could be turning. WO’s arch-nemesis in the MSM David Fisher has just tweeted this:

    David Fisher ‏@DFisherJourno 14m

    Looks like @aklcouncil tied itself in knots over Len Brown’s trip to China. This is not openness. @TaxpayersUnion http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11155641

    When even David Fisher is accusing the Auckland Council of a possible cover-up, then the evidence of a cover-up must be pretty overwhelming.

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  16. Camryn (543 comments) says:

    rouppe – I think WO is suggesting the interpreter was another mistress rather than a financial (credit card) scandal. On this thread, someone says he has a thing for Asian women, another says “remember his trip to China last year” (would be the 2012 one then) and WO says “Yes and who was his ‘interpreter?'”.

    http://www.whaleoil.co.nz/2013/10/rapid-fire-qa-len-brown-story/#more-113996

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  17. Doc (91 comments) says:

    thedavincimode,

    You’re absolutely correct about the pecuniary interests register being the smoking gun. I was just pointing the most likely way that the council will try to weasle out of their misdirection now that they’ve been caught.

    (loving the down-votes for stating the obvious though :-) Keep ‘em coming!)

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  18. thedavincimode (6,759 comments) says:

    A cross that you will have to bear Doc.

    Comfort yourself in the knowledge that by now, mad Len will have slapped himself stupid and be sporting two black eyes (although the self-inflicted beating is likely preferable to what awaits him this evening).

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  19. Sadu (129 comments) says:

    For a website to cost that much, it needs to do some serious back office integration. I’d be expecting it to manage rates reminders and payments, paying for dog registration online, telling me my current water usage, being able to see what library books I had out, current status of the pothole repair outside my house, find the average length of the grass berm down my street etc.

    If it’s a website that largely publishes information that the council staff can update, then it should be 20k max. Maybe 30k if you factor in the contractor shafting the council because they can.

    And to assume that 50% of the residents will visit the council’s website is laughable. I’d love to see actual data on that one too, I bet it’s a lot lower than 50%.

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  20. stever (26 comments) says:

    I’ve read rumours about this trip before. The story goes that there’s supposed (if the author is telling the truth) to be a photo of luppy and bevan together at a function and that at the time she was explained away as his interpreter .
    Until said photo pops up it’s just rumour .

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  21. richard maclean (3 comments) says:

    Is the Wellington City Council fibbing? No – however from a quick look it would appear the Taxpayers Union has made a complete hash of a research project and is now trying to blame us. We were already on the record as saying we’d spent $1.7 million – but the group decided to send in a request which tried to slice and dice our budget in a very confusing way. We gave them the figure that we, in good faith, believed they were after. We also told the guy from the Taxpayers Union yesterday that we would provide him with a full clarification by tomorrow. Seems he’s not prepared to wait. cheers Richard MacLean Wellington City Council

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  22. Steve (North Shore) (4,562 comments) says:

    Burt, did you hear that sound? Whhhoooosssshhh.
    Your 10.54am comment went right over all but two of us

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  23. wiseowl (895 comments) says:

    And today we have the LG Commission recommending a unitary for the far north.
    The lessons of Super Len City rocketing rates and profligate spending are going to be ignored and repeated as the Commission acts on orders to force more amalgamations throughout NZ.
    Say goodbye to Local Government and hello to Regional Government.

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  24. burt (8,269 comments) says:

    Steve (North Shore)

    Yep… Not a very commonly used phrase these days – but it’s on urban dictionary ….

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