DCC affirms transparency commitment

The Dunedin City Council says it remains committed to transparency, despite a nearly year-long delay responding to an official information request.

However, the rising number of requests received by the council may mean it has to take on additional staff to handle them, council strategy and  governance general manager Sandy Graham said yesterday.

The comment came after council staff last week again delayed their response to an Otago Daily Times request for information relating to the former Carisbrook site.

The ODT’s request dated back to September last year, and the council — like other local authorities — is required by law to respond as soon as possible within 20 working days.

Instead, the response has been repeatedly delayed or the deadline extended, sometimes by agreement with the ODT but other times without any update from the council.

Last week, six weeks after the ODT again requested an update, council staff initially said no further action had been taken, and would not  be taken now until after October’s elections.

That was because of a recent influx of requests and because staff were busy writing agendas, attending meetings and taking minutes at council meetings, the response said.

The delay also came just months after the council was criticised by the Office of the Ombudsmen for "a failure to meet the statutory obligations" in its handling of an earlier request.

The council had responded at the time by introducing new systems, training and a new staff member to improve its performance.

Council chief executive  Sue Bidrose declined to comment when asked about the latest delay this week, instead referring questions to Ms Graham.

Ms Graham said she remained "satisfied" with the council’s efforts, despite some resourcing and monitoring "challenges" earlier in the year.

"These problems have largely been resolved," she said.

The council now expected to respond to the ODT’s Carisbrook request more quickly, but the demand for information was still growing, she said.

The council had about 250 received in the past year, and 78 in the past two months, she said.

"We are monitoring the demand and if it continues at current levels we will consider if we need to increase the staffing resource."

Requests were taking an average of 17 working days to respond to, but 10 of those pending in August required staff to sift through more than 500 documents, "which does take time", she said.

The council offered three hours’ work free, before considering charging for information, but to date had not applied charges once, as staff instead tried to help refine requests, she said.

chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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