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Reliability of digital democracy raised

South Wairarapa District Council’s [SWDC] digital infrastructure was questioned at the Greytown Community Board meeting last week, with board members citing issues with emails and submissions.

Board member Jo Woodcock said she knew of four people whose submissions regarding the solar farm proposed for Greytown weren’t received by SWDC.

“Is our submission process fit for purpose?” Woodcock asked.

“These people are intelligent, competent, and some work in IT.

“I think if we’re going to do submissions, the process has to be very clear… because otherwise, we’re missing out on valuable voices from our community.”

Fellow board member and SWDC councillor Aaron Woodcock claimed his email was blocked. “Mine was blocked as a councillor – people were emailing me, and I wasn’t receiving it,” he said.

“I sent an email to the CEO demanding that it be changed and said, ‘Do not block me from emails’.”

SWDC democracy and engagement team general manager Amanda Bradley told board members that there is no such thing as ‘a block’.

“I’ll be really clear about that, I don’t know what the IT issue is, but we do not have blocks.”

Bradley explained there is a moderation system for customers who repeatedly harass or abuse staff that results in their emails going to a specific person in the council who can read it and decide whether to pass it on or not.

However, there is only one person this system is currently applicable to, and the moderation doesn’t include LGOIMA, enquiries, and elected representative emails.

When it comes to submissions, Bradley said SWDC uses SurveyMonkey, where “as long as the user completes each section and hits send”, it will be received.

She pointed out there is also the option for submitters to fill out a paper submission and then scan and email it to the council.

“I won’t say with my hand on my heart that we haven’t occasionally missed some in the past because we can get hundreds and hundreds of emails in a day,” Bradley said.

“We are committed to having a comprehensive consultation process that’s rigorous and gives everyone the opportunity to have a say as part of democratic participation.”

Bradley said that SWDC’s IT team can have a session with anyone with concerns about any of their emails or submissions not making it through.

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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