Hamilton City Council staff have taken on a censoring role - deleting any comments from members of the public which they deem to be obscene or offensive.

Ratepayers who have expressed themselves by using a swear word or gave too many details specific to where they lived - including naming a nearby intersection - in their submissions have had the word or words removed. Any statements which could be seen as defamatory to other individuals have also been blanked out.

Of the 2190 submissions on the council's controversial 10-year plan document published online, 110 submitters have had some of their text redacted, according to the website's search function.

While it's unclear how much of the text has been removed as in place of the original text are the words "redacted text" - it has made for trickier reading.


One submitter gave an example of where council had overspent, citing an intersection. However the name of the intersection was redacted.

Another expressed concern about their suburb being neglected, but council redacted the location. "We in [Redacted text] kept asking that council do something about road safety," the submission read.

Submitter Tamsyn Coulter gave feedback on another idea it wanted council to consider, but her entire response was redacted - with no explanation from council as to why.

Sophie White's passionate argument for council to place value on heritage, performance and save St Peter's Hall was also vetted. "We are part of your community, we are the youth in the CBD… sitting here could be the next [Redacted text]," it read.

Matt Phelps summed up his submission by telling the council to get rid of Andrew King. But what he said after that was also redacted.

Councillor Angela O'Leary said it made reading some submissions extremely difficult and the redactions did not make sense especially around comments about roading and transport.

"The redactions have made it difficult. It is troubling when I'm trying to understand what the person is feeling as well as the issue they are talking about and clearly some people are angry and clearly there have been redactions - of what I can surmise - of people's emotions".

The fourth-term councillor said it was the first time she had come across redactions on council and said if ratepayers were angry over the proposals she wanted to know about it.


"I have a real issue with that because the information in a public submission belongs to the submitter so to redact anything other than for confidentiality purposes is going way beyond the authority this council has."

Councillor Dave Macpherson disagreed with feedback being censored and even though he feared he may be censored by saying it, labelled it a "pile of crap".

"If someone abuses us I'd like to know, it would inform me how seriously to take their comment. I don't agree with censorship like that unless there is a specific ironclad legal opinion that would make HCC liable in some way."

Macpherson said he would be asking anyone at the hearings who had their written submissions redacted exactly what their original wording had been.

Hamilton councillor Dave Macpherson labelled the censorship a “pile of crap”. Photo / File
Hamilton councillor Dave Macpherson labelled the censorship a “pile of crap”. Photo / File

Councillor Mark Bunting did not think the redactions were over the top as his understanding was that only personal and sensitive information had been taken out and he presumed council had a "high bar". "We would have to be pretty thin-skinned if we were worried about people being defamatory towards us."

Councillor Paula Southgate said words being redacted had not been her biggest concern in what she believed was a flawed consultation document. Some submitters had also misread questions and given the wrong feedback.

Southgate, who was a longstanding regional council member before moving to city council, had never come across it before and hoped any redactions had been made to protect the public, not elected members.

Hamilton City Council general manager of strategy and communication Sean Hickey said the council had redacted defamatory or obscene content or details to protect someone's privacy such as addresses and phone numbers before, but admitted the council may have been "overly cautious" this time.

"Staff also remove obscene language or statements which could be seen as defamatory to other individuals."

Hickey said the submissions requiring redactions were "relatively few" and said councillors could seek further information on any submissions with redactions.

Hayden Wilson, a lawyer specialising in public law at Kensington Swan, said it was odd that elected members were also having the submissions censored given they were making decisions based on them.

Wilson said there was no legal requirement for the council to publish the entire submissions, but felt it was unusual swear words had been redacted.

In many cases councils would follow the rules of the Official Information Act and obscene language would not be a good enough reason to withhold the submissions, he said.

While he would advise a client to not publish defamatory comments, he said he would also tell elected members and senior members of the organisation to think carefully about bothering redacting criticism about them given they were in the political environment.

"Here if people have consented to them being published, there is no particular reason why they would be redacted."

A Local Government New Zealand spokesman said there was no specific advice relating to redactions in the Local Government Act.

Neighbouring Waikato councils approached by the Herald did not vet public submissions as a general rule.

Thames Coromandel District Council spokeswoman Laurna White said information was only withheld if there was a good reason to do so under the LGOIMA. An example of this would be commercial information related to a project that the submitter may tender for.

Waipa District Council removed email, phone and street addresses and monitored feedback for swearing and defamatory comments, but had not made any redactions in submissions on its latest Ten-Year Plan. Waikato Regional Council excluded phone numbers and addresses but did not vet language.