Are Councillors Public Officers and do they create public records?
Councillors are elected officials, similar to Ministers of Parliament. They are not employed by the council, even though they receive an allowance from council.
This means that councillors are not employed by a public office and are therefore not public officers as defined by the Public Records Act 1973 s2.
Documents made or received by councillors are not public records (regardless of the content) unless they are then received by an employee of the council.
When is a record created by a Councillor a Public Record?
While a councillor can make a recommendation or decision, they cannot act upon them. In order for the council to act, the councillor needs to communicate this recommendation or decision to a council officer. The Councillor can:
- Send the record to a council employee directly
- Tender the record in a formal council meeting to become part of the minutes
Once received by a council officer (i.e. an employee of the council) it becomes a public record.
What recordkeeping responsibilities do Councillors have?
Under the Local Government Act 2020 councillors have many governance and accountability responsibilities, including a requirement to manage confidential information appropriately.
Councillors should be made aware of what appropriate management of information means, including ensuring all records received (including email or social media posts) are passed to the council in accordance with council policy. Council should recommend that councillors manage their records with great care, and ensure that they are aware of issues of access, privacy, and security. Councillors should be advised to make and keep full and accurate records of their actions and decisions to demonstrate their probity and integrity.
Councillor records should be kept separate from the public records created, received and managed by the council. If the same business system is being used, then it should be configured so that councillors do not have access to the records used by the council and that the council do not have access to records used by councillors unless they become public records.
See Local Government page for more information.