Opinion: Council's secret service brigade

Photo: Getty Images.
Photo: Getty Images.
The city council's self styled secret agent brigade which has been outed for allegedly manipulating information from reports to keep it from the public is nothing short of disgraceful.

Those issues have been well traversed in the media since Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier's scathing report came to light last Thursday.

But what is also equally disappointing is how the city council went about alerting the public it had been caught out.

The city council published an article about the Boshier report on its own news service - Newsline.

The article was written with a positive spin and put online before mainstream media knew anything about the Boshier report and the disgraceful actions of city council chiefs.

Newsline is a competing news service, funded by ratepayers.
In the past the city council would release news and information direct to media which would then decide whether to publiush and in what form.

Newsline articles are generally straight forward and information based.

But the city council's own article about the Boshier report, pitched as a legitmate news story with comments from the chief executive and mayor Lianne Dalziel is dangerous territory.

It felt like: "Let's take the sting out of this debacle before mainstream media get hold of it."

The Newsline article is vastly different to how mainstream media reported it.

Here is its headline: Council chief executive Dawn Baxendale welcomes review findings

From The Star website starnews.co.nz: Council bosses accused of 'manipulating' reports

The Press website: Top council staff 'manipulated' reports to hide bad news from councillors and public

Here is the first six paragraphs from the Newsline article:

New Chief Executive Dawn Baxendale says Christchurch City Council has moved swiftly to address concerns raised by the Chief Ombudsman about the organisation’s official information practices.

The Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier reviewed the Council’s Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA) compliance and practices between October 2018 and July 2019.

His review found that while there are areas of good practices, some do not support openness and transparency.

The Ombudsman has recommended the Council’s Chief Executive review the practice of the Executive Leadership Team’s involvement in controlling the flow of information to elected members and the public to ensure openness and transparency.

Based on his findings, the Council has put in place a 39-step improvement plan that will ensure better practices.

In his report, the Chief Ombudsman said he was encouraged by how then Acting Chief Executive, Mary Richardson, and then Incoming Chief Executive, Dawn Baxendale, had responded to the issues identified in his review.

Here is the first six paragraphs from starnews.co.nz:

City council bosses have been slammed over the alleged "manipulating" of reports before releasing them to elected members and the public.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has identified "serious concerns" about the Christchurch City Council's leadership and its commitment to openness and transparency. 

In a report that investigates how the city council responds to requests for official information he reveals city council staff raised concerns with him about the behaviour of "some members of the then executive leadership team".

This includes "alleged methods to control certain types of information in order to keep negative information about the council from the public and/or elected members."

"These methods allegedly included manipulating or removing information from reports, project reporting not occurring, staff being told not to record information or to keep information in draft form," he wrote in his report.

"This has caused a perception to develop among staff that some members of the executive leadership team wished to manipulate any messaging about the council that might be negative," he wrote.

The first six paragraphs from The Press website:

Allegations that senior Christchurch City Council staff manipulated reports and deliberately kept negative information secret were not taken seriously by the former chief executive, a damning report has found. 

The leadership and culture at the organisation has been heavily criticised by Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier in a report investigating openness and transparency at the council. ​

Former chief executive Karleen Edwards, who left in June, failed to take "appropriate and adequate action" after staff raised concerns that some members of the executive leadership team (ELT) were hiding information, the report says.  

"Council staff raised concerns with me about various methods employed by some members of the executive leadership team to keep negative information about the council from the public and/or elected members," Boshier wrote.

"These methods allegedly included manipulating or removing information from reports, project reporting not occurring, staff being told not to record information or to keep information in draft form."

That led to a perception that some members of the team "wished to manipulate any messaging about the council that might be negative".

I rest my case.

barry@starmedia.kiwi

 

 

 

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