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.

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)

Open Air Amherstburg Access Questioned

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.

Information And Privacy Commission Order Concludes Appeal With Ministry Solicitor General

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.

A Year Later, No Town Policy Re Routine Requests For Information

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.

Mayor DiCarlo: Appropriate Avenue is FOI Request To Windsor Police

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)

related posts:

Windsor Police Requires FOI Request – Telephone Survey
Windsor Police Proposal Requires FOI Application

Amherstburg Discloses Further Records Following IPC Ordered Search

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.

Related posts:

Town of Amherstburg Ordered to Conduct Further Records Search

Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension – Background Byte

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.

Related posts:

Town of Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension

Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension – The Recommendation.

Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension – The Resolution

Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension – The Vote

Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension – Follow Up Questions to Council

Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension – Circulation of Resolution

Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension – Essex County Council Does Not Endorse It

Amherstburg requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension – Third Party Vendors

Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension – Essex County Council Does Not Endorse It

The River Town Times reports that on Wednesday October 21, Essex County council voted to not endorse the town of Amherstburg’s Resolution.

In a letter to county council, the Essex County Accessibility Advisory Committee (ECAAC) stated, “The ECAAC does not support the resolution from the Town of Amherstburg, but also vehemently opposes any extensions to this deadline for compliance.”

The members of the ECAAC noted that “fifteen years is long enough to take the necessary steps in achieving website compliance” and “not only does this request undermine the legislation as it stands, but also sends a message that meeting accessibility standards is not important”.

Kingsville Deputy Mayor Good Queen spoke against the resolution and Amherstburg Deputy Mayor Leo Meloche, in the absence of Mayor DiCarlo, offered an explanation.

View the discussion at county council meeting.

More to follow.

Related posts:

Town of Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension

Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension – The Recommendation.

Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension – The Resolution

Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension – The Vote

Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension – Follow Up Questions to Council

Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension – Circulation of Resolution

Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension – The Resolution

The following was included in the report to council for its September 14, 2020 meeting:

It is recommended that:

  1. WHEREAS Section 14(4) of O.Reg 191/11 under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires designated public sector organizations to conform to WCAG 2.0 Level AA by January 1, 2021;
  2. AND WHEREAS the municipality remains committed to the provision of accessible goods and services;
  3. AND WHEREAS the municipality provides accommodations to meet any stated accessibility need, where possible;
  4. AND WHEREAS the declared pandemic, COVID-19, has impacted the finances and other resources of the municipality;
  5. AND WHEREAS the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act contemplates the need to consider the technical or economic considerations in the implementation of Accessibility Standards;
  6. BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT the municipality requests that the Province of Ontario extend the compliance deadline stated in Section 14(4) of O.Reg 191/11 to require designated public sector organizations to meet the compliance standards, by a minimum of one (1) year to at least January 1, 2022;
    AND,
  7. BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT the municipality requests that the Province of Ontario consider providing funding support and training resources to meet these compliance standards.

More to follow.

RelatedTown of Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension.

Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension – The Recommendation.

Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension – The Recommendation

What was recommended?

That the municipality requests the province of Ontario to extend the website compliance deadline to at least January 1, 2022 and that the province of Ontario consider providing funding support and training resources to meet these compliance standards.

The report for council’s September 24 meeting is not a status update; it is a request, 3 months in advance of the compliance deadline, for an extension to 15 months from now.

COVID-19/the pandemic is the most obvious reason for the recommendation and it is referenced nine times in the report:

  1. RECOMMENDATION: AND WHEREAS the declared pandemic, COVID-19, has impacted the finances and other resources;
  2. BACKGROUND:
    1. enhanced monitoring of declared pandemic, COVID-19;
    2. has been consumed by its response to COVID-19;
  3. DISCUSSION:
    1. did not anticipate the interruptions and redeployments caused by the declared pandemic, COVID-19.
    2. how the municipality ensures the provision of its services during a pandemic
    3. a number of staff were on unpaid leave during the pandemic,
    4. Due to the impact of the pandemic emergency on municipal operations
  4. FINANCIAL MATTERSsuggests that it cannot comply by January 1, 2021 due to COVID-19;
  5. CONCLUSION: extend the compliance deadline from January 1, 2021 to at least January 1, 2022 due to the impacts of the pandemic (COVID-19).

RISK ANALYSIS did not acknowledge the historical disadvantage of persons with disabilities. While the report mentioned administration will continue in its efforts to comply, the risk was relative to hypothetical consequences to the town: If non-compliant; can require; If this is the case; suggests that it cannot comply; may still enforce its timelines; there may be financial implications.

FINANCIAL MATTERS did not specify a dollar amount of hardship, given the reliance on how “COVID-19 has impacted the finances and other resources of the municipality.” Instead, it was noted the town might face financial implications in the form of administrative penalties or increased expenses in trying to meet the required standards after an order to comply. There was no mention of the AODA procedure relative to an Order.

CONSULTATIONS listed three staff; there was no mention of public consultations of ratepayers that pay for the town’s website or their thoughts on financial priorities for the community.

Council voted in favour of the resolution.

More to follow.

RelatedTown of Amherstburg Requests Website Compliance Deadline Extension.

UPDATE: Town of Amherstburg Ordered to Conduct Further Records Search

On August 10, 2020, the compliance date for Information and Privacy Commission ORDER MO-3934-I, the Town of Amherstburg requested an extension until September 30 to complete further searches and provide affidavits and representations about the additional searches in satisfaction of Order Provisions 1- 3.

As posted in Town of Amherstburg Ordered to Conduct Further Records Search). the first three Order provisions are:

  1. I order the town to conduct a further electronic search in response to the appellant’s request using the email addresses of the EA and any other staff in the CAO’s office.
  2. I order the town to conduct a further search of its electronic and paper record holdings for records that may flow from the May 8, 2017 email referred to in paragraph 24 of this order.
  3. I order the town to provide me with an affidavit sworn by the individual(s) who conduct(s) the further searches by August 10, 2020 describing its search efforts. The affidavit(s) should include the following information:
    1. the names and positions of the individuals who conducted the searches;
    2. information about the types of files searched, the nature and location of the search(es) and the steps taken in conducting the search(es);
    3. the results of the search(es); and,
    4. if the search described in order provision 2 does not yield any further results, an explanation.

The Adjudicator understood from the town’s letter that the Town of Amherstburg has commenced the additional searches, which have yielded a large volume of records that require review; and that there have been some delays in completing the additional searches due to demands on staff time because of emergency declarations for COVID-19 and flooding.

In response, the Adjudicator amended the compliance date in Order Provision 3 to be September 30, 2020.

Any further requests for extension must be made before September 15 and the appellant will be given an opportunity to make representations. Requests for additional time for compliance with Order Provisions 1-3 beyond September 30 that are received after September 15 will not be granted, unless extraordinary circumstances are present.

The Adjudicator clarified that the order was issued by the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, which is an Office of the Legislative Assembly and independent from the provincial government.