We’ve just got to to put this delicious item on our list of “daft things that local authorities do”.
In Auckland, there’s a fuss over claims that the council chief executive and senior staff have been intercepting citizens’ email messages to their elected representatives.
The matter is to be investigated.
But who will conduct the investigation?
Answer: the very people who are accused of blocking the emails.
No, this is not a joke (although we must rely for our information on an account here prepared by decent journalists, trained and skilled, and Alf’s old mate Whale Oil has given us lots of good reasons to question such accounts).
With that caveat, let’s check out the story:
Auckland Council chief executive Doug McKay has been asked to investigate claims he and senior staff intercepted and blocked emails addressed to councillors.
This follows claims by two people, Gary Osborne and Grace Haden, at yesterday’s council meeting that their emails to councillors and local board members had been blocked.
This Osborne feller apparently produced an email from McKay, dated June 19 last year, directing the manager of democracy services, Darryl Griffin, to “case manage” Osborne.
It’s great to see the manager of democracy services is being so gainfully employed.
His duties – it seems – include “case managing” the ratepayers who cough up the bucks from which his pay packet is provided.
Osborne perhaps is a prickly bugger.
No matter. He is entitled to communicate with his elected representatives.
And now he has been given one more matter to bitch about.
“Bureaucrats should not have the power to block your emails without your authority,” he told councillors.
Ms Haden has her grouches, too.
She apparently addressed councillors on corruption and accountability in the council.
She also said her emails had been blocked.
McKay – we are delighted to report – insists they weren’t blocked.
Of course not.
They were “case-managed”, as he put it (presumably struggling to keep a straight face).
Outside the meeting, Mr McKay said the council had not blocked or censored anybody’s email.
He said that since the start of the Auckland Council, three people, including Mr Osborne and Ms Haden, had been “case managed”.
He would not name the third person.
He said it was within his power to stop councillors receiving emails that contained inappropriate legal material, including one case where a person was prosecuting the council.
It was also appropriate to case-manage people who had been turned down by the council and refused to give up.
McKay gave the example of a case in which one of the three people rang a council officer 17 times in one hour.
If this caller got a chance to say much during those 17 calls, Alf would be thoroughly surprised, because (if you do your sums) each call would have lasted an average three and a half minutes.
In Alf’s experience of today’s modern phone systems and their infuriating computer-driven instructions to press 1 for this and 2 for that and 3 for something else, it can take much, much longer than three and a half minutes to get through to someone capable of conducting a conversation.
In Auckland, it seems, some elected representatives rather like it that way.
They would prefer not to deal with their citizens – at least, not through emails.
And so –
Mr McKay said some councillors had asked not to receive emails from certain people and the council case-managed those.
But all is not lost.
Councillor Cathy Casey said nobody at the council had the right to block emails, it should never happen again and there should be anapology.
Veteran council protester Penny Bright has called for an independent investigation.
It’s not going to happen.
McKay will do the investigating.
What’s the betting he will find he has behaved abominably?
Ha! If this catches on, people like the Auditor-General and Ombudsman will be done out of their jobs.
The public service – at national and local level – will simply investigate itself, when things go awry.