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Email quarantine practices unreasonable but interference claims quashed

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The Office of the Ombudsman has completed its investigation into email quarantine practices at Horowhenua District Council from 2011 to 2017 and has found those practices were unreasonable.

The investigation was prompted when five people, who had all been placed on the quarantine list, complained to the Office of the Ombudsman about the quarantine practice.

Importantly, the Ombudsman found that there is no basis to suggest Council used its email quarantining process to interfere with or obstruct iwi negotiations, Resource Management Act submission processes, local election processes or Environment Court proceedings - these were concerns raised by the complainants.

In his report, the Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier said he believed the Council had acted unreasonably by:

adding the five complainants to the quarantine list without reasonable or identifiable grounds; failing to take steps to review the status of two of the individuals on the quarantine list for over four years; and, operating a previous emailing quarantine practice, without a clear policy, that ran contrary to the principles of transparency, accountability and fairness. "We fully accept this opinion, and sincerely regret the impact our actions had on the five complainants," said Horowhenua District Council Chief Executive David Clapperton.

The practice was suspended in August 2017, until a clear policy framework - the Electronic Communications (E-mail Quarantine) Policy - was implemented in October 2017. The new policy gives clear guidance on when an individual can have emails quarantined, what actions must be taken with quarantined emails, and a clear complaints process to be followed. The Ombudsman has provided feedback on the policy, and it will be reviewed in light of that feedback.

"I am confident that the implementation of the new policy will prevent any recurrence of the issues raised by the complainants," said Mr Clapperton. "The practice was introduced in 2011 and continued by me with good intentions - to help protect the health and safety of Council officers and elected members."

Mr Boshier acknowledged the Council’s willingness to co-operate with his investigation.

"I wish to commend the Council for openly engaging with this Office during this investigation and providing assistance when needed," he said. "I acknowledge that the Council also engaged, at its own expense, a contractor to help with the extraction and forensic analysis of quarantined emails for the purposes of this investigation."

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