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Reporter’s And Individual’s Requests For Information Compared

How does a reporter’s experience compare to the average residential taxpayer where there may not be an incentive to quickly comply with requests for information?

Julie Kotsis, the Windsor Star, reported that Amherstburg CAO John Miceli responded to her email on Day 2.

My experience requesting information from the Town of Amherstburg and Windsor Police differs.

For example, information that should have been readily available required an almost two-year formal appeal process and an Order for the town to search for more records. Windsor Police objected to the disclosure of its Amherstburg policing proposal which resulted in a two-year wait for an Information and Privacy Commission Order to disclose all but two pages of the 131- page document.

Mayor DiCarlo advised the appropriate avenue was through a written inquiry sent to Windsor Police for information pertaining to the utilization of specialty units in the town of Amherstburg since the take-over.

Windsor Police referred me to the company that conducted its telephone survey, which did not respond. Back to Windsor Police who directed me to submit a Freedom of Information request.

Most recently, the town of Amherstburg insists it is fair to impose an $892.50 fee to complete a request for detailed information that the clerk and CAO publicly stated during a council meeting.

Over a year ago, I requested councillors consider creating a protocol to answer taxpayers’ and media inquiries. In response, the CAO advised the town is in the process of creating a Routine Disclosure and Active Dissemination Policy and, until adopted, requested that all information I seek be made through the formal process.

I repeated my request in April this year for council to adopt the Information and Privacy Commissioner recommended Routine Disclosure and Active Dissemination Policy, revised in 1998.

The town clerk advised COVID impacted services and only Councillor Prue supported it and reminded members of council that during the last election, they all said we need more openness and citizen involvement.

I wonder which will come first; a policy or more campaign promises to be open, transparent and accountable.

Commentary by Linda Saxon

Municipal Information Request Response Tested by Windsor Star Reporter

Julie Kotsis, Windsor Star reports the results of requests for information to municipalities.

Emails were sent to every municipal chief administrative officer in Windsor and Essex County, requesting basic information that should be readily available to the public.

Taxes, development fees, number of staff employees, operating budgets and Integrity Commissioners were subjects of inquiries. Kotsis reports that response times varied widely, from one day to several.

What about Amherstburg?

More to follow.

Leamington Can’t, Amherstburg Can Afford Windsor Police

CBC reports, Windsor police proposal too pricey for Leamington council; OPP service to continue.

“At Monday’s meeting, council discussed a report from administration that looked at the WPS proposal. It showed that it would cost $9.4 million dollars to begin using WPS through 2022, which is more than $3 million dollars over the $6.1 million it would pay to continue using the OPP for the same period.

Administration said that would mean a 13 per cent raise in municipal taxes for property owners and it would equate to an average of a an average raise of $232 dollars per household.”

New Lobby Group In Amherstburg

The Windsor Star reports, New lobby group aims at bettering Amherstburg and is co-chaired by Richard Peddie and Lauri Brouyette.

The article includes a couple of quotes from Peddie:

“We need both council and residents to quit listening to the misinformation that’s put out there,” Peddie said.

He’s hoping some residents who get “sucked in” by the “negative naysayers” will change their perspective once presented with the facts.

“We’ve told council we will be before them many times,” Peddie said. “We’re going to push them.”

Committees, Consultation and COVID: Council Agenda item

Members of council were asked two simple questions two weeks ago re accessibility concerns of Open Air weekends:

  1. why was accessibility not considered during the decision making process?
  2. why was the accessibility advisory committee not consulted for input?

This post addresses the second question and the answer that followed, in part, by Mayor DiCarlo, the only member of council to respond:

“The AAAC was not consulted with respect to Open Air Weekends because the AAAC and many other committees were and still are not functioning due to COVID.”

Paula Parker, in a memo on council’s April 26 Agenda states, “Council continues to be advised on matters of accessibility, equality and inclusivity by the Amherstburg Accessibility Advisory Committee.”

Now a new committee is being recommended: a special purpose Ad-hoc Committee, the Inclusive Community Program (ICP) Advisory Steering Committee to “help Amherstburg to become an age-friendly community by ensuring that the needs of the residents of all ages and abilities are considered in every stage of community planning and development.”

There are plans to hire a consultant: “approval is requested for an over-expenditure in the CAO’s Office budget centre professional fees expense account for up to $60,000 including net HST to fund consulting services for development of the Needs Assessment and Action Plan; this cost would be funded by the ICGP.” 

The report’s RISK ANALYSIS section includes, “Administration is of the opinion that all advisory meetings should resume through the Town’s zoom meeting platform” and “Should Council wish not move forward with this engagement solution for advisory committees, it may result in political criticism.” (report’s typo)

Should administration include consideration of political risk when it provides advice or recommendations to council?

A request for the grant application was submitted.

More to follow.

Councillor Prue Supports Routine Disclosure Policy

As mentioned in the April 11 post, Amherstburg Clerk And Mayor Respond to Routine Disclosure Policy Request, any action undertaken by council about the April 12 consent correspondence item would be posted.

Councillor Prue is the only one who supported and spoke about the request for the policy. He reminded members of council that during the last election, they all said we need more openness and citizen involvement.

Prue mentioned it has been a recommendation of the province since 1998 and the request was made here more than a year ago.

Prue’s question was, when might we expect this policy improvement so that people no longer have to go through the arduous, time consuming and costly efforts of freedom of information requests which they almost always get after a year or two?

Paula Parker, town clerk, stated she agreed, however, indicated the town does already provide active dissemination of its records through its records repository which is publicly available on the town’s website and it reaches back to about 1950s. She advised the Clerk’s division is focused on remediating that content before continuing to expand its offerings.

Regardless, a policy will be presented to council in the near future.

Amherstburg Clerk And Mayor Respond to Routine Disclosure Policy Request

Is COVID a convenient excuse, again?

Amherstburg town clerk Paula Parker responded to the request for the policy to be placed on the April 12 agenda and stated, in part, “Unfortunately, COVID-19 has impacted our services somewhat and this policy, as well as others, have been set aside for the time being until we get back to some sort of normal operations.”

It was in February 2020 that the CAO advised the town was in the process of creating one, prior to any COVID impacts. While I realize COVID has been credited as the cause of some delay for some items, it would be fairly simple for council to enact a policy such as this.

Members of council were then asked to confirm whether or not council has directed administration to create this policy.

Mayor DiCarlo was the only one to respond, “This policy is being created as part of ongoing policy review of all of the town’s policies, not from a specific council direction.  There are policies being reviewed, edited and created to address long outstanding backlogs, a direct result of resource issues.”

The request for the policy has been placed under the consent correspondence agenda section.

Any action undertaken by council will be updated.

Amherstburg Needs Routine Disclosure Policy

Following the post, A Year Later, No Town Policy Re Routine Requests For Information, a second request to council is on its April 12 agenda: for council to adopt the Information and Privacy Commissioner recommended Routine Disclosure and Active Dissemination Policy, revised in 1998.

Why do we need this policy? Because in the spirit of accountability and transparency, it is my opinion that not every request needs to be a formal freedom of information request.

The Information and Privacy Commissioner encourages municipalities and has produced, with the City of Mississauga, a resource, Routine Disclosure/Active Dissemination A Best Practice in the City of Mississauga.

Also from the IPC website:

Open Government

Open Government is based on the core belief that the public has the right to access the records and proceedings of government to enable greater openness, accountability, and engagement.  Its goals are to:

  • improve the quality of governance and services by becoming sustainably more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to the public and
  • enable the public to make better and more informed decisions, resulting in an improvement to the quality of their lives

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario has long stressed the need for enhanced public access to government-held information.  Accordingly, it is a strong supporter of Open Government.

The IPC encourages all institutions under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to determine how they can begin or expand their Open Government activities.  Our office is actively offering resources and support to institutions embracing this more open approach.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Bob Rozankovic, Editor, Amherstburg Politico gave no credit to information he posted pertaining to plagiarism and an administrative report to council by Anne Rota and Nicole Rubli. Rozankovic posted, “It’s sad when they plagiarize existing articles…”

Rozankovic was aware that Linda Saxon discovered the similarities in the reports to previously published articles and it was her research that enabled her to send a letter to the editor RTT on Friday, March 26, 2021 at 2:51 p.m.

Amherstburg Politico posted the information on Saturday, March 27 at 1:12 p.m. without citing the source despite a reminder to do so.

No April Fool’s Joke – Fees For Information Are Fair Says Clerk

Paula Parker, Amherstburg Town Clerk, issued a decision letter today and stated, “In reviewing your request, I note that you have not identified a financial hardship, therefore I maintain that the already reduced amount due of $892.50 to complete this request is fair as per the Act.”

BACKGROUND

The town’s Resolution, distributed throughout the province, was to request an extension of the website compliance date of January 1, 2021 due to COVID. During the public discussion, Paula Parker and CAO Miceli mentioned third party vendors.

October 7, 2020 FOI request relative to the town of Amherstburg website and third party vendors, requests for quotes, contracts and the re-design of the site.

October 9, Paula Parker confirmed receipt of request.

October 14 Paula Parker sought clarification.

October 16 clarification provided: wording was based on wording CAO Miceli and Paula Parker used in reference to non-compliance due to third party vendors.

October 20 Paula Parker advised, in part, your request is not strictly related to website compliance, this will take some time to complete and an extension letter inclusive of estimate for search and preparation time, as legislated is forthcoming.

October 20 further clarification provided; request did not include ‘website compliance.’

October 29 Paula Parker issued letter; meeting the time limit would un reasonably interfere with the operations, the application cannot reasonably be completed, the town requires an extension to December 4.

October 29 Paula Parker issued second letter; based on initial review, estimate is:

search: 22 hours and 15 minutes @ $7.50/15 minutes = $667.50
preparation: 10 hours @ $7.50/15 minutes = $300.00
total = $967.50
A deposit of $483.75 will be required in order to proceed further with the request. (original bold)

November 23 Appeal to Information and Privacy Commissioner Ontario

January 2021 IPC Mediator involved

February 22 request the town waive the fees for this request pursuant to section 45(4) of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. M.56.

February 24 Paula Parker acknowledged receipt; will review and advise in the coming days.

March 30 Paula Parker issued letter; amended fee reduced by $75.00:

search: 22 hours @ $7.50/15 minutes = $660.50
preparation: 7.75 hours @ $7.50/15 minutes = $232.50
total = $892.50
This would require a deposit of $446.25 to proceed further with the request. (original bold)

April 1 Paula Parker issued letter; “In reviewing your request, I note that you have not identified a financial hardship, therefore I maintain that the already reduced amount due of $892.50 to complete this request is fair as per the Act.” This will require a deposit of $446.25 to proceed further with the request. (original bold)