16 Sep 2019

Council won't reveal emails written by its members about one of its own

6:05 pm on 16 September 2019

A New Plymouth councillor says he wonders what the council is trying to hide after it refused to release emails to RNZ written by the mayor and senior staff about him.

New Plymouth councillor Murray Chong.

New Plymouth councillor Murray Chong. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The council says to do so would prevent staff sharing frank opinions, and expose them to ridicule or harassment.

Murray Chong, who has recently been in a spat with council over a $60 parking ticket and has previously been the subject of code of conduct breaches, said he had nothing to hide.

"It's the old boy's network playing their games again and I just don't agree with it. It should be all open and transparent and we should be able to communicate with each other freely."

Mr Chong was ticketed in April after being photographed by a member of the public parked on a broken yellow line.

New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom.

Mayor Neil Holdom. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The ticket was issued at the directive of the chief executive Craig Stevenson and the mayor Neil Holdom.

Mr Chong subsequently took photos himself of other illegally parked vehicles and sent them into council but no enforcement action was taken.

On 31 July in an email with the subject line "Staff safety and ongoing issues related to your ticket", Mr Stevenson banned Mr Chong from emailing council staff after accusing him of harassing them.

"Both the Mayor and I asked you to apologise to the staff that you intimidated but this was not done. Instead you have continued to harass certain staff members via email.

"Unfortunately, you have left me no option other than to restrict your internal email access to myself only. I have spoken to the Mayor about this and he has supported my action."

Mr Chong said if he was a risk to council staff why then had he not been banned from the council building?

"I'm very concerned and it's almost bordering on defamation of character that certain people have said that my emails are aggressive or intimidating. I've show people email conversations and they agree they are not [aggressive]. I'm quite willing to show people my side of what I've said to anyone and let people make that choice for themselves."

Mr Chong's ability to email other councillors is unaffected.

But he said just days out from voting packs going out for the local body elections the email ban, which initially captured his business address as well, hampered his ability to campaign effectively.

"If I've got an issue I can't just email and get a question to the management or the staff involved in council, I actually have to go into council or I have to direct it through the CEO.

"The problem with that is that if the CEO doesn't feel like it needs to be discussed he doesn't have to pass it on and I feel that is a bit controlling."

Mr Stevenson and Mr Holdom have been asked for comment. The council adivsed RNZ on Monday afternoon that it had nothing further to add.

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