The following letter has had names removed, except those previously cited by broadcast and print media (public domain). -Eds.
Received from Neil Johnstone
Fri, 5 Aug 2016 at 11:41 p.m.
Subject: DCC and the LGOIMA
Message: I have read concerning comments on your site regarding DCC’s apparent failure to comply with its LGOIMA obligations. You may wish to post my account of my recent experience.
Dunedin City Council took ten months to produce its second Infrastructure Report, entitled ‘South Dunedin Public Infrastructure During June 2015 Flood Event Follow-Up’ (Author: R. Stokes). On 28 January 2016 (still three months before the report surfaced), then DCC Group Manager Transport Ian McCabe told the Otago Daily Times “the lengthy timeline was needed to ensure the report was robust, including an external peer review of its findings”. Mr McCabe went on to emphasise that “the report had been widened from an initial focus only on mudtank maintenance, and now also included a fresh look at the network’s design capacity”. That all seemed fair enough.
When the report was ultimately released in late April 2016, it contained no reference to any external (or other) peer review. However, when interviewed by John Campbell on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint programme on April 22, shortly after the Report’s release, Mayor Cull repeatedly referenced “independent” peer review(s) as supporting (“parts of”) the Report’s content. Mr Cull stated that he didn’t know which parts of the report had been reviewed independently. “You would have to talk to her (Ms Stokes) about that,” he said. Presumably, therefore, he hadn’t seen the review(s) either.
On 17 May I sent a LGOIMA request to DCC Chief Executive Sue Bidrose, asking for a copy of the review(s). On 20 May I received an acknowledgement from DCC which rather defeated the purpose of my request but, more importantly, indicated that I would receive a response asap, but within 20 working days. I immediately queried why it should take such a long time to simply send a copy of a recent review, and asked simply for confirmation whether the review actually existed.
This time I received an email from the Group Manager Corporate Services suggesting a “discussion” before they left for overseas. There was no mention of my straightforward query as to whether the review actually existed. I replied immediately, and asked again for a simple yes/no to that question. Again, the question was not answered.
A full month (the maximum allowable period of 20 working days having elapsed since my simple request) later, I received an email from DCC. They were able to report that they had received information from the General Manager Infrastructure and Networks thus: “The response to Mr Johnstone is that we have had a peer review done, however this is still in draft and yet to be finalised (as staff have been focusing on forward work demands, and we have staff away). Once the review is finalised it will be publicly released.” “Therefore we have decided to refuse your request under section 17(d) of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, as the information requested will soon be publically (sic) available.”
I considered that response was unsatisfactory. The review, apparently under belated construction, was clearly not what I had repeatedly requested. I should by then have received the review referenced by Messrs McCabe (“external”) and Cull (“independent”), or received an acknowledgement that it did not exist.
Then on the evening of 6 July I was emailed by the General Manager Infrastructure and Networks, a copy of a new review, seemingly hot off the press, and authored by Opus in Auckland. This obviously was not the review that I had requested back on 17 May, as all DCC personnel involved should have known.
On 9 July I wrote to Chief Executive Sue Bidrose, expressing my concerns. I asked the following key questions:
Why, almost two months after my original LGOIMA request, I had still not received an admission that the peer review sought did not in fact exist?
Or, alternatively, if it did exist, why had it not been provided?
Why it took a month after my initial request for me to be merely told (irrelevantly) that a (different) peer review was being prepared, but with no attempt to satisfy my simple, legitimate request?
Almost a week later, a DCC officer returned to the list of respondents. They advised that my (follow-up) enquiry was being treated as a new request, and (you all know the drill) would be dealt with as soon as possible, but within 20 working days of receipt at the latest.
Nineteen working days later I received an emailed response from a Manager Civic and Legal. None of the three questions (above) were answered. They stated that my enquiries had been answered as soon as possible, given the volume of other requests. But the most interesting part of their response reads as follows: “The reported reference in the ODT (Mr McCabe, cited 28 January) to the external peer review was actually a reference to work the Council was undertaking to investigate the performance of the mudtank maintenance contractor…..”
So external means internal in the DCC, and widening means narrowing?
If the manager had been informed correctly, then there was no external review. Why, in that case, was I not told that nearly three months ago? Why did the Mayor apparently believe there was an external (independent, to use his wording) peer review? Furthermore, why did DCC fail to answer my three questions above.
I could, of course, ask these questions of DCC via LGOIMA, but I could then only expect an interim response followed by 20 more working days of inaction and worse.
Instead I have initiated a series of complaints to the Ombudsman, and decided that the public should view yet another example of how our City Hall is operating.
My intent throughout has been to identify the true causes of the June 2015 flood, so that real solutions can be identified and “political” solutions avoided. I have no intention of stopping, despite DCC’s apparent resistance.
Neil Johnstone is welcome to publish emails supporting his story; it appears most if not all of the emails he received pertain under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act and therefore reside in public domain. However, the Ombudsmen are best to advise on these matters. In the meantime DCC is welcome to correct any factual errors, in the interests of accuracy and balance. -Eds.
Posted by Elizabeth Kerr
Election Year. This post is offered in the public interest.