$1.3m legacy of secret decision

By John Cousins

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Tauranga City Council building.
Tauranga City Council building.

A secret decision to spend $1.3 million on an urgent computer system upgrade took place just five days before nearly all the Tauranga City Council was kicked out by voters last year.

The previously secret spending on information technology was disclosed in a line of of a financial monitoring report.

It was revealed yesterday that the decision to buy the technology was made in the dying days of the last council - five days before the elections on October 12 that swept seven of the 10 councillors from power.

The decision to spend $1.35 million of rates did not go through public budget processes for 2013-14 but was linked to the arrival of the council's new management team after restructuring cleaned out most of the old guard.

Council finance committee chairman John Robson was one of the new councillors who were "absolutely surprised" to learn about the spending when they were briefed after the election.

He said the urgency indicated to him the age of the council's operating system. The Windows XP system was about to become unsupported by Microsoft. The system was not fit-for-purpose in 2013, to such an extent that staff told the council it needed to act soon and not leave it to the 2014-15 Annual Plan.

"It is not the sort of thing you like to hear ... in that part of the council's operation someone did not have their eye on the ball."

The deputy mayor at the time the decision was made, former councillor David Stewart, denied that keeping the report confidential was driven by election political reasons.

Mr Stewart said the council did not want the public to know that there was a security risk, otherwise people would have had a go at its systems.

"There was a high degree of urgency and risk associated with not doing anything."

Mayor Stuart Crosby said the former council acted responsibly in addressing the problem which only came to light after a staff member identified the issue.

The work, which was funded from surplus funds, had to be carried out urgently to protect information stored on the council's computer system and to ensure it had enough back up. It was kept confidential because of the sensitive nature of the information and because the work was soon to be placed out to tender.

"It was the responsible thing to do and it had nothing to do with the election coming up," Mr Crosby said.

Council communications manager Frank Begley said the new management team introduced "best practice processes" which highlighted the need to drive improvements and reduce risks.

A confidential peer reviewed report was considered by the former council on October 7.

Mr Begley said two projects in particular had created demand for increased information storage and data protection. These were the digitisation of paper records and the new document management system.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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