The Hamilton City Council has apologised to the Ombudsman for providing several wrong and "unnecessarily ambiguous" responses under the Official Information Act.
The Office of the Ombudsman made preliminary inquiries last month when the Herald complained about the city council's lack of transparency after the council gave incorrect answers to three different questions in two different Local Government Official Information Act responses.
The Local Government Official Information Act 1982 gives the public a right to access information held by government bodies and it should be withheld only if there is a good reason for doing so.
The errors in the official responses - for which the council has 20 working days to respond - were only discovered after either another agency, city councillor or the Herald raised it with the council.
The council then apologised and provided the correct information.
In a letter to the Herald, senior investigator for the Ombudsman Victor Lee acknowledged the council had apologised three times for providing incorrect information relating to code of conduct complaints and two different answers about purchasing of 260 and 266 Victoria St last year to land back them for a greater city park.
One related to the council not providing a definitive answer and implying that councillors had been told about something when, after being pressed, the chief executive later confirmed they had not.
"Through my inquiries, however, the council accepts that the initial answer was 'unnecessarily ambiguous'. The council also conveys its apologies for any inconvenience caused from this," Lee's letter said.
Lee said because the council had now provided the correct information to the specific complaints he would not be investigating further.
Lee acknowledged the Herald's concerns that there could be wider issues around the council's transparency and was forwarding details of the report to a team that reviews selected agencies' official information processes.
However, because of limited resources it reviews the official information processes of only six to 12 agencies out of 4000 each year.
A Department of Internal Affairs spokesperson said local authorities were expected to "act transparently and abide by good, robust practice at all times".
When approached by the Herald, Hamilton mayor Andrew King said he had not been told about the preliminary investigation by the Ombudsman or the outcome.
"I don't know what you are talking about ... is this a chief executive issue? Because I don't know about it."
After making inquiries, King said the council had not received any correspondence from the Ombudsman on the outcome.
But Hamilton East MP David Bennett said the council should be meeting its requirements by replying to LGOIMA requests accurately and to its fullest extent to ensure accountability.
"The only check we have is often through the media and through the OIA process so they need to comply with those requirements," he said.
"If they haven't been doing that then they need to adjust their processes and make sure they are," he said.
Hamilton councillor Angela O'Leary said residents had reason to worry that council's responses to Local Government Official Information Act requests were not being answered correctly.
"The issue is one of transparency and the response from the Ombudsman's Office casts a further cloud of uncertainty under this mayor's leadership.
"For a mayor who campaigned on 'truth and transparency' this is extremely worrying."
Dave Macpherson, another city councillor, said the responses were not being treated in a commonsense way and like in many organisations the OIA had become a bureaucratic process.
"You're entitled to expect something better.
"Putting my councillor hat on, I would say to Richard Briggs, looking at the answer you got - let's stop this stupidness. If a serious question is asked by a journalist let's bloody tell them or at least converse with them directly about why we can't or at least do it verbally."
A Hamilton City Council spokeswoman said the council would comment once it had received an official response from the Ombudsman. The appeal period ends on May 21.