The South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] leadership team delayed publishing a report on residents’ perceptions, disclosing it only after the recently elected mayor asked for it.
The report on the 2022 South Wairarapa Resident’s Perception Survey [the Report] was effectively complete in August 2022, but only released publicly by the council in February. Mayor Martin Connelly, elected late last year, said the Report was only disclosed to him after he questioned where it was.
Connelly described the delay as an error of judgment and a wasted opportunity.
The Report was prepared by market research firm Key Research and cost $27,600 excluding GST. A random selection of 3000 residents aged 18 years or older were invited to take part.
Residents rated the performance of the then SWDC as less than optimal. Top-line results showed 77 per cent of respondents were dissatisfied with the council’s financial management and the way it involved the public in the decisions it made. And 75 per cent were dissatisfied with the way the then-mayor and councillors gave a fair hearing to residents’ views. More than 70 per cent of respondents rated the then-council low on its decisions and actions, with trust as one of the top five worst areas of performance.
Connelly and the newly elected SWDC councillors were sworn in on 26 October 2022, but the Report was only disclosed to the new mayor in late January 2023. SWDC discussed the Report at its meeting on February 22 and published it the same day.
“Over the Christmas break, I remembered I had taken part in the perception survey as a resident and realised I had not seen the results,” Connelly said.
“I realised the results had not been published and asked the chief executive where it [the Report] was in January. I got a copy of the Report on January 19. I couldn’t believe something that contained significant findings had not been provided to council earlier or been part of the pre-election report. It should have been a priority for the new council to be informed of these results.”
Connelly said residents needed to be able to trust their council.
“If we had the results earlier, we could have addressed residents’ concerns more quickly. I think the previous council should have dealt with this as a matter of urgency.”
The Times-Age asked SWDC for information about the timing of the Report and the publishing of the results under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act [LGOIMA].
The response said the Report was commissioned by the general manager, policy and governance on 1 September 2021. The survey ran from 17 March to 13 May 2022, with the SWDC executive leadership team receiving a first draft on 29 June 2022 and the final report on 3 August 2022.
The LGOIMA response said the newly elected SWDC members were first shown a copy of the final Report shortly before the February meeting.
“All members were sent a draft [unapproved] cover report as well as the final report and benchmarking report on 17 February and then a final cover report on 21 February,” the response said.
“The timing of the release has been compounded by an election period and the delay of the audit,” it said.
SWDC acting chief executive Stefan Corbett further explained the delay.
“The residents’ perception survey is undertaken each year as a measure for specific KPIs that council has in its annual report. Council releases the results as part of its published annual report around October,” he said.
“Due to the audit not being able to be completed by Audit NZ in time for adoption and publication of the Annual Report in October 2022, council had no choice but to delay the release of the results until such time as it was able to publish the annual report. However, when it became obvious that the ongoing audit delays were extending beyond acceptable publish dates, and into 2023, council chose to release the results independently of the annual report.
“We regret the delay. However, it was out of our control to a large extent as councils generally would not prematurely release information intended for the annual report without formal tabling and council adoption of the document.”
Connelly said the lengthy delay was unacceptable.
“If we are to have effective local democracy, we need councils to be more upfront with information such as this report revealed.”