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The Otago Daily Times has sought information about bonus payments within the council dating back a decade - including spending this year and whether rules were being complied with - but received a written response rejecting the request.
Council human resources manager Bruce Miller said that was because the information was subject to collective bargaining between the council and the Southern Local Government Officers Union.
The union represented hundreds of council staff and was involved in talks to come to a new collective agreement.
The request for information was made under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987, but Mr Miller said in response the Employment Relations Act "constrains our communication with staff during negotiations".
"I will be happy to provide full answers to the questions once negotiations have been completed."
Contacted about his decision, Mr Miller was also unable to say when the bargaining would be concluded and the information would be available.
The decision has been referred to the Office of the Ombudsman, but was criticised by Cr Vandervis.
"I have been absolutely astounded what they [council staff] are prepared to say is simply not to be had ... We get this all the time," he said.
Cr Vandervis planned to ask staff about the decision, but believed the electoral platform of improved transparency used by some candidates - including Mayor Dave Cull - last year appeared not to have changed much.
"I'm gobsmacked - absolutely gobsmacked."
Mr Miller's decision to withhold information about bonus payments came after he released some details of previous years' payments in January.
Responding to an ODT letter to the editor, he said bonuses over the previous five years amounted to about 0.5% of total salary expenditure, and aimed to encourage and retain high-performing staff.
About one-quarter of staff received a bonus each year, worth on average $680 but as little as $20 in non-cash items or as high as payments of between $3500 and $5000, which went to "two or three" people, he said.
"The value to the city vastly exceeds the value of any recognition given," he said.
In 2008, then-council chief executive Jim Harland confirmed the council paid nearly $700,000 in bonuses in the previous four financial years - $228,000 in 2007-08, $145,000 in 2006-07, $168,400 in 2005-06 and $156,800 in 2004-05.