QLDC emails reveal combative and obstructive comms culture
Emails released to Crux under official information laws have revealed a culture that seeks to treat news media as the enemy and attempts to block access to public information.
Crux has been asking for the Chief Ombudsman to look into the Queenstown Lakes District Council's internal communications for a number of years and now a full investigation is underway.
As part of that investigation the QLDC has been forced to reveal internal emails that show what happens behind the scenes when Crux, and we assume other news media, ask the council for information.
The emails confirm the council’s media spokesperson Sam White has little or no authority to supply answers to the media. Instead they reveal his media responses pass through a number of other more senior council staff for changes and multi-level approval. These are managers who do not attach their names to eventual media responses. For the record they are Rebecca Pitts (engagement and communications team leader), Naell Crosby-Roe (governance and stakeholder services manager), and Meaghan Miller (corporate services manager).
Of more concern is that those more senior staffers seem to see the disclosure of public information as some sort of combative cat-and-mouse game where the goal for the council is to say and do as little as possible.
A prime example is the response of council management to the NZ Media Council ruling against the QLDC in one of their numerous complaints about Crux reporting. The Media Council basically told QLDC staff they are required to answer tough questions from Crux and other journalists.
An email from Mr Crosby-Roe calls the decision “extraordinarily disappointing”, with the reaction of his boss, veteran council senior manager Ms Miller 100 percent redacted from the emails that have been released.
The QLDC has told us on a number of occasions that Ms Miller is not involved in the council’s media and communications operations but the emails reveal another story. As a former journalist, with 20-plus years at the QLDC, she clearly takes a keen and active involvement in how the council relates to both journalists and the community at large.
In another email exchange, Crux had been arguing to the QLDC that evidence the council had been asking Crux for was ironically in their own material. This related to their own communications team saying for a year that procurement rules had been followed, before chief executive Mike Theelen then publicly admitting those rules had not been followed.
But the email messages reveal Mr Crosby-Roe still refusing to accept this incontovertible truth and instead launching a personal attack on the Crux journalist involved, saying "no material will reinforce or support his accusations".
The QLDC official information team has redacted virtually all of the council chief executive's comments and directions to his communications team. Here's just one example. Again we ask the question, what is so damaging that it needs to be edited in this way?
Crux has told the Ombudsman the council’s partial release of these heavily redacted emails does not resolve our ongoing complaint, and we’ve asked for further information to be released and the redactions to be removed.