Refrain From Contacting Members Of Council For Information?

I’m researching obtaining information from the Town of Amherstburg.

Has anyone been asked to refrain from contacting members of council for information and rely on the MFIPPA process?

Open government is of interest to me and has been since the 1990s when Amherstburg Police FOI Coordinator Bart DiPasquale routinely denied my requests for information.

Windsor police escort several Amherstburg senior managers out of town hall

Trevor Wilhelm, Windsor Star reports, in part, “Mayor Aldo DiCarlo confirmed Wednesday that three employees were escorted off town property on Monday. He would not confirm their names or why they were shown the door, but said town lawyer Susan Hirota has been “temporarily assigned” Miceli’s work.”

DiCarlo told the Star that the cancellation of Monday’s council meeting was a coincidence and unrelated to the turmoil.

“There were some report issues in the agenda,” he said. “It wasn’t a huge agenda. But unfortunately, one or two of the more important ones actually had some last minute questions that came up. Without being able to deal with that that night, we just felt like there wasn’t a point to have a meeting that night.”

Wants vs. Needs

Commentary by Linda Saxon submitted to the River Town Times in response to the article “Local business owners adding new building to portfolio.”

While I appreciate Richard Peddie’s enthusiasm for ‘what historic Amherstburg once looked like,’ I disagree that ‘the town is not investing enough in heritage.’

The town was so committed to heritage that it remained silent throughout my ten-year campaign to make the Carnegie library accessible. The library retrofit cost continued to rise over a decade, as did legal fees for the town to resist any library changes. The Ontario Human Rights Commission highlighted the case in its Annual Report and the town credited others with my accomplishment.

In addition to ignoring my requests, the town disregarded funding initiatives that prioritized accessibility. When I questioned the marina, instead of changing the priority project to the library, the town withdrew its application.

In 2001, I requested that council include accessibility in the tender for library repairs; Instead, the town donated $710,000 for a replica of the HMS Detroit, for which taxpayers incurred a 9% tax hike over a two-year period.

The town attracted negative attention when it circulated its council resolution throughout the province to request an extension to the accessible website deadline that it knew about for several years. I had been requesting the town make its website accessible since 2001, along with other items that would have increased accessibility, but they were received, noted and filed.

Shamefully, only one person with a disability was consulted about the Open Air weekends and the town placed accessible parking in an unsafe location.

More recently, administration recommended an over-expenditure of salary and benefits expenses in the Clerks Budget Centre for additional staff overtime to deal with advisory committee commitments and AODA compliance. There were no details in the report so I can only wonder why AODA compliance was not routinely incorporated without overtime.

Too often heritage takes precedence over accessibility; sometimes accessibility is not even incorporated in the initial planning stages, all of which is contrary to the human rights code. Not everyone is aware that heritage buildings can be made accessible.

I do not believe that heritage should be ‘referenced in the budget.’ Elected officials have human rights obligations and must consider the health, safety and well-being of the community they serve, and provide services and things that the municipality is authorized to provide.

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.”

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.