278 official requests to council for information

Two of Dunedin's city councillors are helping flood Dunedin City Council staff with official information requests, as a third councillor questions the cost of providing so many answers.

Figures released to the Otago Daily Times yesterday showed the council has received 278 official information requests since July 1 last year, more than in previous years.

The requests included 34 sent by the city's elected members, most of which had come from Crs Hilary Calvert and Lee Vandervis, it was confirmed.

The cost of processing requests prompted concern from Cr David Benson-Pope, who asked for more detailed information about the size of the bill at this week's finance committee meeting.

However, Cr Calvert told the ODT she was ''unrepentant'' about asking questions, ''and I won't be stopping''.

Instead, she fired a shot at Cr Benson-Pope, claiming he had access to answers - as a committee chairman - in ways some other councillors might not enjoy.

''I consider it my job on behalf of the ratepayers to make decisions based on good information.

''It's a wee bit rich for somebody who can get answers differently, potentially, because they are being briefed in a different fashion, to criticise other people,'' she said.

Asked why she needed to seek answers through official information requests, Cr Calvert said some information was not as available as it should be, or ''I would not have needed to ask''.

''I shouldn't have had to play a game of 20 questions.''

Cr Vandervis agreed, telling the ODT people would be ''amazed'' how little councillors could be told sometimes.

''You don't have access to any more information than any man in the street.

''Whatever staff decide to put in the [council reports] tends to be it, because it's just too hard trying to get information otherwise.''

Cr Benson-Pope did not respond to requests for comment yesterday. Mayor Dave Cull is overseas.

Council corporate services group manager Sandy Graham said councillors had ''the same right as anyone else'' to make official information requests. It was not for her to say why they felt the need to.

The figures showed another 51 of the requests came from media organisations, including the ODT, 11 from lawyers, three from MPs, 15 from organisations - including 11 from the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union - and 164 from the public.

Most requests from the public were from ''single-issue people'', Ms Graham said.

One person had made 15 requests since July 1 last year. She declined to name the individual.

Media requests remained the most time-consuming, because of their complexity, she said.

Of the 278 requests filed, 40 remained active awaiting a response, including 11 from elected members.

The complexity of requests appeared to be rising, and the council had one staff member to co-ordinate official information responses, plus carry out other duties, Ms Graham said.

Despite that, there were no plans to change the way requests were processed or information released on the council website, which was ''an exemplar'' nationally, Ms Graham said.

''Our transparency around our processes is something other councils ask us about often.''


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