The Far North District Council has received a mixed report from the Ombudsman's investigation into the council's Official Information Act request processes.
Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier's report says the council is serious about being open and transparent about its obligations, but has several areas to work on.
Will Taylor, FNDC general manager corporate services, welcomed the report, which he said confirmed that the council was serious about being open and transparent, and that despite capacity constraints, it generally responded to LGOIMA requests efficiently and within statutory timeframes. It also highlights areas where processes could be improved.
A number of suggested changes had already been implemented, and the council was committed to further improving its LGOIMA performance.
The report said the council faced some big challenges given its remote location, the size of the district and the distribution of its diverse communities across many small population centres. Unemployment rates were usually higher than the national average, and the median income was significantly lower. The ratepayer base was small, and infrastructure costs large, so resourcing council functions could be a struggle.
The council had featured at the "higher end" of district council complaint numbers to the Ombudsman's office this year.
His investigation identified a number of positives, the report noting that the council's legal team, which was responsible for managing formal LGOIMA requests, generally did so efficiently and within statutory timeframes. The council had a skilled and dedicated governance team, responsible for council meetings, and its property information team had worked hard to return to issuing LIM reports on time following a short period of unavoidable delays in the last financial year.
"It is clear that council staff take their responsibilities towards their community very seriously," Boshier said.
"They are strongly committed to the need for the council to be open and accountable, and are keenly aware of resource constraints. This was demonstrated in various examples of communications with the public where staff were upfront about the reasons the council was not able to do something, and took the time to explain why.
"The council's communications approach is similarly open. The decision to introduce a reputation measure in its Resident Opinion Survey, and publish the full results, is an excellent example of transparency in action.''
However, there were areas in which the council could improve significantly.
"There are currently no council policies on official information, no training is provided to staff about LGOIMA, and the guidance for staff responding to requests for information is insufficient," he said.
"Recent organisational changes have had an impact on the ability of the governance team to ensure compliance with LGOIMA timeframes for meeting notices and agendas.
"The ability of staff to achieve statutory timeframes on LGOIMA requests and LIM reports is dependent on workflows and, at times, there may not be enough people to meet the demand. It is the responsibility of senior leadership to foster a culture that promotes good official information and meeting practices."
The report also found a lack of visible engagement from senior leadership with the council's LGOIMA obligations.