Ombudsman Office says no to systemic e-mail investigation

Published on 14 December 2017

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The Chief Ombudsman has decided not to hold a systemic investigation into Horowhenua District Council. However, four individual complaints are still being considered.

Following a recommendation by KPMG earlier this year, the practice of email quarantining was stopped and a new policy developed and adopted by Council.

In a letter to Council, Mr Boshier said he is pleased an Electronic Communications (E-mail Quarantine) Policy has been adopted by Council as it addresses the most pressing areas of concern that prompted him to consider a systemic investigation. However, his office will continue to consider complaints from four individuals who were affected by the previous policy.

Deputy Mayor Wayne Bishop says the decision is welcome, understandable and not the least bit surprising.

“Residents and ratepayers should feel comfort in that the Chief Ombudsman’s decision came about following discussions with the Offices of the Auditor-General, the Privacy Commissioner, the Department of Internal Affairs, Local Government New Zealand and the Society of Local Government Managers.”

Horowhenua District Council’s Finance Audit and Risk Committee Independent Chair Philip Jones says he is pleased the Chief Ombudsman has acknowledged the new policy.

“The new policy addresses the Chief Ombudsman’s most pressing concerns. It is a leading-edge policy in the context of local government,” says Mr Jones.

Horowhenua District Council Chief Executive Officer David Clapperton says he is proud of the fact that we now have a policy that protects our employees and enables them to get on with the job at hand.

“We’ll definitely update the policy with the feedback we receive from the Privacy Commissioner and the Office of the Ombudsman – after-all these bodies are there to protect us.”

Mr Clapperton says following a request from media, Horowhenua District Council has released the Chief Ombudsman’s letter to the public.

“Mr Boshier’s letter gives praise and criticism where they are due. While we still need to wait for the outcome of the individual complaints, I believe the wider community will find comfort in his words.”

Meanwhile, the Ombudsman’s Office is still to make a determination on a number of other complaints namely:

  • Two complaints on Council’s decision to withhold the incomplete draft Sensitive Expenditure Review.
  • A complaint regarding a decision to shut off water to a nursery building.
  • A complaint regarding questions asked of the Mayor.

As well as that the Ombudsman’s Office is currently assessing some more recent complaints:

  • A complaint regarding Council’s decision to refuse a request to identify a person who requested a copy of a third party's emails to Council.
  • A complaint regarding Council’s decision to refuse a request for information about the qualification and experience of Council staff.

“We await the Ombudsman’s decisions on the individual cases and will endeavour to adopt learnings” Mr Clapperton says.