The Dunedin City Council has been advised to consider
redacting defamatory budget submissions before making them
public in future.
The advice from the council's lawyers came as the council
earlier this week considered how to respond to a submission
on its 2014-15 annual plan from former Stop the Stadium
president Bev Butler.
Ms Butler, in her submission, had urged the council to
investigate ''inappropriate spending'' by the Carisbrook
Stadium Trust and Dunedin Venues Management Ltd.
She said the stadium funding process had been ''so flawed
that no-one would know whether fraud had occurred or not''.
However, her allegations aimed at individuals had prompted Cr
David Benson-Pope to ask that those spoken about be given the
chance to respond.
Cr Benson-Pope reiterated that concern on Monday as he pushed
for the material submitted by Ms Butler to be forwarded to
the parties concerned, to give them a chance to respond.
That should include Ms Butler's written submission, details
of her comments made while presenting it, and emails sent
later by Ms Butler to the council, Cr Benson-Pope said.
His move came after council chief executive Dr Sue Bidrose
confirmed to the meeting she had checked to see whether the
council could refuse to accept a submission.
The advice from the council's lawyers was all submissions
should be accepted, but redacted to remove potentially
defamatory or libellous statements before they were placed in
the public domain, she said.
Cr Benson-Pope argued the council had a responsibility under
the principle of natural justice to allow people referenced
in submissions to respond.
In Ms Butler's case, that should include emails sent to
councillors after her submission, which were ''discoverable''
under official information legislation and which had
''expanded the ambit considerably'', he said.
However, Cr Lee Vandervis questioned why Ms Butler was being
singled out, and argued it was not the council's role to try
to prompt parties to respond to material they might consider
libellous in the public domain.
''I don't see any particular issue with any submitter coming
here and saying anything as contentious as they like.''
Cr Hilary Calvert was also worried by the proposal, saying
the suggestion to go beyond submissions and include emails
''opens a whole new can of worms, in principle''.
Cr Richard Thomson also agreed, saying Ms Butler's comments
were ''not something she hasn't said on many occasions
before'', and it ''really is a matter between a submitter and
who they are referencing''.
Cr Mike Lord went further, saying it was time for the council
to ''let a dead dog lie''.
''I have no interest in whether the claims are true or not
true. I'm completely ambivalent to it.''
Mayor Dave Cull said he would be ''a little uncomfortable''
taking up Cr Benson-Pope's suggestion without a clear policy
governing the referral of such material to outside parties,
which the council did not have.
Cr Benson-Pope disagreed, saying the council already had a
policy framework ''and it's called natural justice''.
Councillors voted 10-4 against Cr Benson-Pope's move, which
won support from only Crs Benson-Pope, Aaron Hawkins, Jinty
MacTavish and deputy mayor Chris Staynes.