Well it's taken a few weeks, but Auckland Council has finally responded to the Taxpayers' Union 'please explain' letter regarding a reported instruction by the Mayor's Chief of Staff, Phil Wilson, to refer all enquires about a secret January 2013 Mayoral trip to China to his office, and appears to be a misleading response to our enquiry about the trip under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987.
To recap, after a tip-off that there was inappropriate expenditure on a mayoral trip to China in early 2013, we asked the Council for the identify of the person who we were informed was responsible for the spending. It is our practise to use official information channels and verify any information we receive via our tip-line (or otherwise). We were told that the last trip was in 2012. April 2012.
No mention was made of the early 2013 trip.
As has been widely reported, we now know that the January 2013 did indeed happen.
A few weeks ago we spoke to an official at the Auckland Council who told us that the Council had misled us and implied that she was instructed that all requests from the Taxpayers’ Union relating to the January 2013 China trip, be directed to Mr Wilson.
But instead of explaining the inconsistency, Mr Wilson has today emailed a veiled threat that our statements are "being monitored and reviewed through legal channels".
Our initial correspondence is here. This was last night's follow-up (for all of the emails we have redacted the contact details):
From: Jordan Williams
Sent: Monday, 25 November 2013 8:00 PM
To: Phil Wilson
Subject: Taxpayers' Union enquiries regarding Mayoral trip to China
Dear Mr Wilson,
Further to my letter of 11 November, and our subsequent telephone conversation, to date we have not received the Council’s response to the questions posed regarding the your apparent instruction to staff that they should refer all enquiries relating the Mayor’s trip to China to you and mislead third parties (including the Taxpayers’ Union) about the trips existence. As you appreciated when you called, the allegations are most serious in nature. You are no doubt aware that we have reported them to the Ombudsman. Nevertheless, we are surprised that you have not provided the ‘official response’ you said would be forthcoming when we spoke. Is that response still forthcoming?
Executive Director | New Zealand Taxpayers' Union Inc.
This is Mr Wilson's response today:
From: Phil Wilson
Date: Tuesday, 26 November 2013 4:08 pm
To: Jordan Williams
Cc: Michael Quinn, Wayne Godfrey
Subject: RE: Taxpayers' Union enquiries regarding Mayoral trip to China
I have just checked and my understanding is that the response will be with you by the end of this business week.
In the interim and so there is no doubt whatsoever:
1/ No-one travelled with the Mayor to Hong Kong (or joined him there) in early 2013.
2/ No costs for this trip were borne by Auckland Council at all – whether by credit card, business expense reimbursement or otherwise. More generally, the Mayor has neither a Council credit card nor has he filed a single business expense claim in his tenure since October 2010. He meets his normal expenses personally.
3/ The person you claim to have provided the Taxpayers Union with information about the mayor travelling with someone and/or about that (nonexistent) person using a credit card inappropriately is either seriously mistaken or outright lying. As such, related statements are being monitored and reviewed through legal channels.
4/ I have not instructed staff to defer to myself on this or any other matter the Taxpayers Union is pursuing. The Manager you spoke to simply asked you to continue your enquiries with me because the Mayors Office, rather than her Department, was the liaison point for the Hong Kong Government re trip details.
Chief of Staff, Mayoral Office
Unfortunately Mr Wilson has failed to answer the key question – why did the Council mislead us initially about the existence of the trip?
We're going to ignore the quasi-threat of legal action. Given the Council's inability to explain the 2013 trip obfuscation, does Mr Wilson really think that we should not follow-up these sorts of tips to keep him, elected officials and staff accountable for the ratepayer dollars they spend on our behalf? If only he would have his lawyers advise him on the Council's obligations under freedom of information laws.