Trevor Wilhelm, Windsor Star, reports, “Town lawyer Susan Hirota was appointed Amherstburg’s acting CAO after three staff were told to leave town property on Aug. 9. On Tuesday, the Town of Kingsville announced Hirota will be moving to their organization as the director of Legal and Clerk Services.
On Friday, August 13, theburgwatch emailed Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, as a member of the media, and requested:
1. the press release you issued regarding staff being escorted out of town hall
2. that this email address be added to media lists for the issuing of notices to the media
3. a copy of the notice of cancellation of the August 9, 2021 council meeting.
Mayor DiCarlo questioned theburgwatch’s credentials, to which the reply confirmed that we already had this discussion in October 2020.
On today’s date, Mayor DiCarlo provided the media release as a public document, not as a media request.
A link to the cancelled council meeting was provided: https://calendar.amherstburg.ca/council/Detail/2021-08-09-1800-Regular-Council-Meeting-Public-Participation-via-L
As for being included in the media, the Mayor’s understanding appears to pertain to ‘media outlet,’ a traditional, or old media, definition. My understanding of ‘member of the media,’ includes new media.
If press releases were posted on the town’s website, one might conclude there is a willingness to embrace open government.
NOTE: In February 2020, I requested council establish a protocol to respond to inquiries from taxpayers and the media.
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.
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.
Members of council were asked two simple questions two weeks ago re accessibility concerns of Open Air weekends:
- why was accessibility not considered during the decision making process?
- 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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)
This opinion by Linda Saxon was published in the River Town Times, March 31, 2021.
RE: Open Air Weekends Approved March 24, 2021
It was interesting to read about the variety of ideas that might possibly entice visitors or change the purpose of the weekend events.
The article mentioned, “Councillor Marc Renaud said there is a lot of parking a short walk from the downtown core, noting many will walk to and around shopping malls.”
In a report to council, Anne Rota and Nicole Rubli noted what the transportation planners suggest is an acceptable range of walking distance for retail, employee and special event parking.
The figures mirror those in an article originally published in 1994 when the authors discussed conditions that should be taken into account to determine how far people using parking garages should be asked to walk. It was determined that there was a lack of consensus for what is considered maximum walking distance.
The report mentions beliefs, perception and“the travel distance acceptable to an individual is contingent on an individual’s willingness to walk.” Transportation studies mention a willingness to walk in terms of close proximity to transit.
Notably absent was any reference to accessibility guidelines or consultation with residents with disabilities and the Amherstburg Accessibility Advisory Committee which has a mandated duty to advise council about the requirements and implementation of accessibility standards.
A separate report to council regarding accessibility requirements noted, “no consultation with the committee was possible at this time” due to COVID, yet the committee met previously during COVID on zoom, as has council.
Given mandatory training on the human rights code and accessibility legislation, why was there no checklist identifying potential barriers and their removal? If persons with disabilities had been consulted, barriers could have been prevented. For example, placing a group of accessible parking spaces on Dalhousie street is unacceptable, considering the slope on the southwest side.
Administration would also recommend the elimination of the Kings Navy Yard Parklot being a primary accessible parking location. Why? These spots were allegedly under-utilized. The town is obliged to provide a specific number of accessible parking spaces so it should not remove them, unless they cannot be accessed due to road closures.
Other potential barriers should have been identified. How many accessible parking spaces are type A? type B? What is the percentage of accessible seating in the eating areas? Are there any rest areas? How many accessible washrooms are there? Are the pathways unobstructed? Is signage accessible? Is marketing material available in alternate formats?
If there is a parking problem, maybe the problem is with the plan that barricades access to the downtown area.
On today’s date, the Information and Privacy Commissioner Ontario orders the ministry to disclose the emails to the appellant (pages 98 and 99), except for the portion withheld on page 99 due to section 18(1)(d). Until the Order is available online, you can read PO-4127 revised by IPC for typos on March 31.
The Ministry and the town of Amherstburg objected to the disclosure and cited law enforcement exemptions.
Windsor police objected to disclosure of pages 142 and 143, floor plans, on the basis of the law enforcement harms in section 14(1) of the Act. In response, the appellant submitted, among other arguments, that the harms were not present because she already had a copy of the floor plans, which she provided, disclosed by The town of Amherstburg.
Windsor Police submitted, in part,
- Recently a group of individuals stormed the Capital Building. During the investigation into this incident, a video was located. The footage depicts individuals discussing the floor plans to determine the best method to execute entry to the building.”
- It is not my intent to infer that the requester will use this information for nefarious purposes; however, it has been established, in previous orders, that disclosure to one person is disclosure to the world.
- It is for the reasons stated above access should be denied to the records. In my opinion, it is not imaginary to assume that the disclosure of the records may lead the theft of firearms, drugs, intelligence information or result in harm being committed against our officers or civilian staff.
It has now been one year since I emailed all members of council to request that council consider creating a protocol to answer inquiries from taxpayers and media.
I explained that, on occasion, information was not relevant, was difficult to locate, or it was unclear who would answer a request for information.
Mayor DiCarlo forwarded my email with an FYI to CAO Miceli, who replied; Miceli advised the Town is in the process of creating a Routine Disclosure and Active Dissemination Policy and that I might wish to review the policy when it appears on the agenda for Council’s consideration and approval in the near future.
My response to Miceli was, in part, “I will not refrain from exercising my constitutional right to democratic participation, including my right to freedom of expression. I will continue to contact my elected officials for information for as long as it is their role to represent the public and their duty to be transparent and accountable to their constituents.”
To date, such a policy has not been created.
The Information and Privacy Commissioner revised its Routine Disclosure and Active Dissemination Policy publication in SEPTEMBER 1998.
Council needs to step up and direct administration to establish such a policy – not all requests for information need to be in an official FOI request.
theburgwatch inquiry to Mayor DiCarlo was for the number of times in each of the past two years that Windsor Police has had to utilize specialty units in the town of Amherstburg. (November 26)
Mayor DiCarlo: The appropriate avenue to get that information is through a written inquiry sent to the Windsor Police Freedom of Information Coordinator, Shelley Gray. I have copied her on this email. (November 28)
theburgwatch: Given recent emails, i thought you were the appropriate person, “I follow up with all taxpayer requests for information wherever and however possible. I also follow up with the media in the same way.”
How disappointing that requests for information require formal requests; maybe a new policy is required to increase transparency? (November 28)
The Town of Amherstburg has disclosed further records following the Information and Privacy Commissioner Ontario ORDER MO-3934-I regarding the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request to the town for correspondence regarding the police costing from the town’s CAO and his staff to the OPP.
The IPC Adjudicator’s Analysis and Finding were:
(27) I find that the town’s search was not reasonable, and I will order it to conduct a new search.
(28). I am persuaded by the appellant’s argument that the electronic search was too narrow and that it ought to have included the EA’s email address. The town does not dispute that the scope of the request included the CAO’s staff and it has explained that the CAO has only one staff member. While I acknowledge that the town stands by the reasonableness of the search, it has not provided a sufficient explanation for why no electronic search was undertaken of the EA’s email.
(29). I further acknowledge that the town takes the position that the electronic search was only complementary to the paper-based search. However, the town has also emphasized that both components of the search are important. To that end, in this case, I have concluded that it is in fact because the town itself relies on the electronic component of the search that the omission of the EA’s email from the search renders the search incomplete.
(30) I am also persuaded that there is a reasonable basis to conclude that there ought to be additional records. Using the content of the records that were disclosed to her in this appeal, the appellant has established a reasonable basis that additional records ought to exist. Further, the appellant has possession of responsive records that have not been disclosed by the town in this appeal. Although it had the opportunity to do so, the town has not provided an explanation for this fact.
The town requested an extension of the August 10, 2020 deadline as it had commenced the additional searches, which yielded a large volume of records that required review; and there had been some delays in completing the additional searches due to demands on staff time because of emergency declarations for COVID-19 and flooding.
Nicholas Renaud’s affidavit states, in part, he conducted the search and provided 24,223 records for review. Kevin Fox’s affidavit states, in part, the IT Division provided 24,223 emails for review that he manually reviewed.
Paula Parker, the town’s FOI Coordinator, states three further records were disclosed: M-2018-16 Decision theburgwatch.com copy. note: format originated from the town.
An Order will be issued.
In response to the RTT article, ‘County will not endorse Amherstburg’s request for AODA website compliance’ letter by Linda Saxon as published on November 4, 2020.
I appreciate Essex County Council not endorsing the town’s request.
Is COVID a convenient excuse?
For eighteen years, since September 2002, I appeared before town council and the town’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, emailed the town’s IT Department, wrote letters to the editor and appeared before the provincial Standing Committee on Justice Policy regarding the need for an accessible town website. The Manager of Information Technology assured me twice that a new website was being launched and would comply with web accessibility standards and informed council the site was standard compliant in July 2007. I provided site check results indicating the site failed minimum standards in June 2008 and in January 2009 after the launch of the newly designed site.
I served on the Essex County Website Redesign Committee when the county launched its redesigned site in 2014. Why did Amherstburg wait until 2016 to hire the same web design company? And, in the four years since, what is the town’s excuse for non-compliance? Obviously, it isn’t COVID.
The Amherstburg Accessibility Advisory Committee should have also ‘vehemently’ opposed the town’s resolution that was distributed to all other municipalities in the province.
Most disappointing was that council members placated administration when the question on behalf of the community they serve should have been, why are we not compliant by now?
Although the report to council claims COVID is the reason, administration explained at the council meeting that it was due to third parties. I guess no one on council realized the town is also responsible for third party vendors because no one commented.
From the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001 to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, nothing in the legislation prevents a community from implementing accessibility earlier than deadlines that were carefully considered and allowed for plenty of time to comply. It is shameful that the town requested an extension when it was aware of the compliance deadline for years; certainly, for longer than COVID has existed.