We’re still transparent – so council says

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OPINION: I thought Queenstown’s council was playing silly buggers with official information.

Two months ago, I asked for the costs for controversial plan change 50.

But last week, the council - after several extensions for what seemed like legit excuses - denied that request and sent out a press statement to all media.

Diddums Mountain Scene, right?

We’re broad-shouldered - but there are issues of substance here as well as style.

In the bad old days the council was at war with this paper for years.

Press statements were sent out deliberately to stymie our exclusive stories - something we stake our reputation on.

It was pig-headed and unnecessary, and I’d hate to see a return to it.

There was the whiff of such a thing, however, in the way council managed this latest situation.

Council’s justification for putting me off was for “consultations” and that it had taken “longer than we expected
to research”.

Nonsense. At the last gasp, councillors called an extraordinary meeting on the plan change costs and staff were well aware my request would likely be gazumped by an official statement.

The fact they never told me the real reason for stalling is galling enough.

But the previous week, mayor Vanessa van Uden gave me a serve about using the Local Government Official
Information and Meetings Act.

She says the council should be able to provide information reasonably requested, without the ‘perceived threat’ of
LGOIMA, because it wants to.

She declares: “We don’t have anything to hide.”

She knew nothing about my PC50 request.

Council boss Adam Feeley’s more direct: “We don’t try and shaft you on exclusives.

“We won’t work against you but we don’t necessarily work for you on those situations.”

It’s great the information’s out there but the council knows they can kill a story by issuing a statement.

Feeley says the council would have “done a better job” if it was game-playing.

Staff probably felt limited by what they could say, he explains.

Meanwhile, councillors wanted to issue a statement to show there were no secrets.

That’s an ironic move after a secret meeting - building on concerns raised last week about our ‘closed-door’ council.

Here’s the rub.

Most council staff are banned from speaking to media because they might screw up.

Breed fear and anxiety and people would rather say nothing and piss us off, than be honest.

In terms of transparency, it’s already a rarity to speak to a departmental manager directly - the council favours carefully-worded statements.

QLDC is an organisation under pressure - to cut costs, work surviving staff hard and fiercely control the public
message.

And somehow we’re to trust it to just hand over information, without resorting to official requests?

Here’s a message to Vanessa, Feeley and councillors: a bad attitude on releasing information isn’t the way to get
the public onside - or to get re-elected.

david@scene.co.nz