Palmerston North ratepayers will be charged $56 an hour for information if they ask the city council too many hard questions.
Paul Stichbury and John Adams, unhappy at the lack of information they have received about the Turitea wind farm proposal, have both emailed the council with questions and both have been told by city council legal counsel John Annabell that they will be charged for the answers.
The men said they thought the cost was “to fob them off”, but Mr Annabell said it is standard practice.
“We haven’t charged anybody yet . . . but we have indicated to two people that there could be a charge at a rate of $56.”
Mr Stichbury said questions he asked in his submission to the council on the wind farm proposal have never been answered.
“It’s in the public interest but they (council) are not prepared to answer them. As a ratepayer, I have the right to know. I haven’t been happy with the process.”
Most of his questions can be answered with a straight yes or no, Mr Stichbury said. “I’d like to how they came to $56 an hour . . . it’s good if you can get it.” The council is being obstructive and withholding information, he said.
“This seems to be the way the council works.”
Mr Adams said democracy should be open and transparent.
“I don’t see why I should (pay). They must have all the information there.”
The council introduced new information on the wind farm at the infrastructural well-being committee meeting in October, Mr Adams said.
He then asked to make a deputation to speak at the next council meeting so he could address some of the new information, but was not allowed. “I want to know what is going on, so I can argue my case at the resource consent hearing.”
Mayor Heather Tanguay said she did not agree there has been a lack of information about the wind farm proposal.
“I think the information (available) has been very substantial.” The charge applies to everyone, not just people requesting information on the wind farm, she said.
“It’s always been the case. We provide information up to a certain amount, but when people continue to ask questions and request information and documents that are very substantial . . . it’s always been that (the charge).”
Mr Annabell said the council decided “some years ago” it would charge for each 30 minutes, after the first 30 minutes, for a large request of information under the Official Information Act. “Any request to the council is deemed to be under the Official Information Act. Any time people ask us for information it’s a request for official information, so they can’t say the act doesn’t apply.”
The charge is for searching for and collating the information, with a separate charge for photocopying.
Mr Annabell said most requests to the council are quite simple, so it doesn’t worry about the charge.
“But when lots of information is requested, that may take weeks of work, there is a charge.”
And the charge doesn’t include the time for deciding whether or not to make information available, which is free, he said.
By Helen Harvey
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