Tuesday , January 26 2021

The Ombudsman's decision restricts Horowhenua's email blocking



Horowhenua District Council's Executive Director David Clapperton, left, is apologizing to Mayor Michael Feyen to block e-mails that he sent as councilor.

MURRAY WILSON / STUFF

Horowhenua District Council's Executive Director David Clapperton, left, is apologizing to Mayor Michael Feyen to block e-mails that he sent as councilor.

A council that blocked and watched some emails from the man who is now the mayor has been rowed as "unreasonable" and called for apologies.

The Chief Ombudsman has told the Horowhenua District Council that it should apologize for Mayor Michael Feyen to block some of his emails when he was a councilor.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier said that the Council's previous e-quarantine practice was unreasonable and "contrary to the principles of transparency, accountability and justice".

His opinion was based on examining complaints from five people, including Feyen, about interference between e-mails between 2011 and August 2017.

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The report makes a weak reading for the Council. Boshier said the council had not registered why people were blacklisted and took a "cavalry" when it came to the question of whether e-mails were eventually forwarded to intended recipients.

Council executive David Clapperton said he accepted the Ombudsman's opinion and prepared a letter of apology for the five people.

The Council considered whether an apology would also be written to Fey's main supporter of the Council, Cr Ross Campbell, who had also been on the list.

Feyen said he had not been able to fully read the Ombudsman's opinion, but was glad that something had happened.

Managing Director David Clapperton assists in swearing in Horowhenua mayor Michael Feyen in 2016.

MURRAY WILSON / STUFF

Managing Director David Clapperton assists in swearing in Horowhenua mayor Michael Feyen in 2016.

"But I still ask the question of why they took me out [of the email loop] when I've never done anything wrong. "

And he was not convinced that there could be real change when the same people were responsible for the Council's new e-quarantine policy.

Boshier confirmed that the Council had no policy when it began to keep a list of people whose e-mails were considered to be a risk to the staff, and whose e-mails would be forwarded to the CEO.

"This exercise was largely uncontrolled."

Horowhenua mayor Michael Feyen is apologized for any disturbances in his e-mail.

MURRAY WILSON / STUFF

Horowhenua mayor Michael Feyen is apologized for any disturbances in his e-mail.

Boshier said that the e-mail blocking was initiated before Clapperton was appointed as Chief Executive Officer, according to the security of the staff and to protect them from abuse.

But he said his ability to review the quarantined e-mail was limited.

"The reason why people became quarantines was not documented, and there was a remarkable lack of records about whether the e-mails were finally forwarded to their intended recipients."

Three of the complainants did not even know that their emails were blocked until an internal auditor's report of March 2017 leaked.

Of the quarantined e-mails, the Ombudsman could inspect, many never reached their intended recipients.

Boshier said there were two examples of emails that he agreed to were "problematic", which resulted in the handling of incoming emails, but they had not been sent by any of the five complainants.

He considered it "disproportionate and unreasonable" for the Council to block Feyen and another complainant based on the examples of e-mail it had decided to be "unacceptable".

Horowhenua mayor Michael Feyen will consider whether "sorry" is enough over an e-mail snooping saga.

MURRAY WILSON / STUFF

Horowhenua mayor Michael Feyen will consider whether "sorry" is enough over an e-mail snooping saga.

Boshier also said it was unreasonable for two people to stay on the quarantine list for more than four years without trying to review their status.

He did not uphold complainants' allegations that the council had used the e-controls to disturb any negotiations with iwi, any submission procedures for the resource management act, local elections or environmental court proceedings.

"There is no clear evidence that the Council tried to distort or prevent e-mail exchange."

He was particularly concerned about e-mails that did not reach elected members.

"In principle, I consider the elements that can communicate with their locally elected representatives via e-mail without undue interference. This is fundamental to democracy."

He said the actions had called on Feyen to use his personal email accounts to ensure that he received e-mail about council activities, further undermining the principles of transparency and accountability.

Boshier said beyond asking the Council to apologize, no further action was required in view of the existence of a new quarantine policy for e-mail.

Clapperton said that he hoped to apologize would be accepted and the council could continue with questions about growth and roading that were important to society.


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