Official Information and Councils – the Ombudsman is looking at you!
In November 2019 the Ombudsman published the latest in a series of Practice Reports examining Local Government compliance with the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 (LGOIMA).
LGOIMA aims to ensure local authority accountability and transparency by increasing public access to official information held by local authorities, and promoting the public transaction of business at local authority meetings.
What is the Ombudsman’s role regarding LGOIMA?
Parliament has tasked the Ombudsman with monitoring agencies’ official information practices. In 2019 the Ombudsman published LGOIMA practice reports on Horowhenua District Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council, Tasman District Council, Far North District Council, Auckland Council, and Christchurch City Council.
The investigation teams reviewed documentation and systems, as well as surveying and meeting with staff, elected members, and key external stakeholders. They evaluated Councils’ leadership and culture, organisational systems, policies, practices and procedures, performance monitoring, and learning needed to achieve the purposes of the LGOIMA.
What do Councils need to do?
The Ombudsman did offer suggested actions to improve performance across the sector, as well as recognising areas of good practice. These included:
- Ensuring that senior leadership teams take ownership of official information practices
- Utilising technology (e.g. livestreaming) to ensure community access to council meetings
- Proactively publishing information such as transparency reports, LGOIMA responses, resident survey results and performance measures
- Avoiding being risk averse regarding release of information on controversial topics
- Ensuring staff are trained on LGOIMA
- Creating and consistently using robust information management systems
- Ensuring timeliness of responses to LGOIMA requests – in accordance with the Act.
The Ombudsman also provided a non-exhaustive set of good practice indicators – a useful resource for all councils that is appended to each report.
In November and December 2019 the Ombudsman announced further investigations into LGOIMA practices at Buller District Council; and Invercargill, Tauranga, and Porirua City Councils. Reports on the findings of these investigations will be published in 2020.
Want to know more?
Councils seeking advice on how to ensure compliance with LGOIMA should contact Anderson Lloyd’s Local Government expert Michael Garbett.