Officially, it was hearsay

Commentary by Linda Saxon

I previously posted about Another Freedom of Information Appeal Against The Town of Amherstburg Won following Amherstburg Deputy Clerk, Tammy Fowkes’ not processing my FOI request until I submitted the ‘appropriate documentation.’

In October 2015, I requested “reports and minutes of closed meetings pertaining to the fire department changeover that were released to members of the public.”

Paula Parker, Municipal Clerk, on December 17, 2015 advised, “I hereby confirm that there are no records that respond to this request. To my knowledge the alleged release of information was hearsay and not specific records.” (emphasis by P. Parker)

Another Freedom of Information Appeal Against The Town of Amherstburg Won

Commentary by Linda Saxon

In an October 31 post, Pettiness Prevails At Amherstburg Town Hall, I mentioned that Tammy Fowkes, Amherstburg Deputy Clerk, returned my FOI request, stating, “Unfortunately we cannot process your request until we have received the appropriate documentation. I have included the official form in your return package. I have also enclosed your $5.00 cheque to be returned with the official form.”

I also quoted sections from the MFIPPA (Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. M.56) that set out what a requester shall do when making a request.

The only stipulation is that a request be made in writing; nowhere does it specify that the town’s request form is the only ‘appropriate’ document.

Accordingly, I appealed the decision on the grounds of ‘deemed refusal’ and the town is now required to issue a decision in response to my request.

Is council aware of how FOI requests are handled? Is stifling requests for information a goal this council wanted to achieve? Are FOI requests even mandatory?

The town has posted an Info Sheet – Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) on its website which includes, “Does a requester always have to submit a written FOI request to obtain information? No. Municipalities decide on their procedures locally. In practice, in many cases, municipalities choose to provide information in the absence of a formal FOI request.”

Since the town’s website is difficult to navigate, as I’ve pointed out since 2002, I could not locate the by-law designating anyone as the town’s Freedom of Information Coordinator; CAO Miceli emailed it to me when he finally responded to questions I submitted six weeks ago.

Maybe this council needs to review the Town’s By-law 2011-84 wherein council delegates its powers and authorities to the Town Clerk to act as head of the municipality for the purposes of administering the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and for decisions made there under.

Information And Privacy Commissioner Ontario Issues Interim Order – Town of Amherstburg To Conduct Another Search For Responsive Records That Predate March 2012

The October 30 Interim Order is the result of a Freedom of Information request submitted to the Town of Amherstburg in May 2014 and subsequent appeal, mediation, and adjudication.

Summary:

The appellant sought access to all correspondence between the town and its insurer relating to the town’s transition to the insurer and benefits for employees over the age of 60. The town located a number of responsive records and issued a decision disclosing them in part. The appellant appealed the town’s decision on the basis that the town did not conduct a reasonable search for responsive records. The town located additional records during the course of the appeal and disclosed them to the appellant, who maintained that more responsive records ought to exist. The adjudicator finds that the town did not conduct a reasonable search and orders it to conduct another search for responsive records that predate March 2012.

Parts of the town’s reply representations are found at paragraphs 17 and 18 below:

[17] The town continues that the appellant, as a member of the Amherstburg Police Association, was entitled to receive information from the Association. It also notes that the appellant has not provided any representations from the Association that additional records exist; he just asserts without any proof that the Association and the Chief of Police have stated that other records exist.

[18] The town asserts that its Manager of Human Resources is an experienced employee who expended reasonable efforts in conducting her searches. It states that it is entitled to reply to the request made; it need not conduct searches for records not contemplated by the request. The town concludes by stating that the appellant’s assertion about the grievance statement in the records is unfounded and is indicative of his ulterior motive for making his request.

Pettiness Prevails At Amherstburg Town Hall

Commentary by Linda Saxon

Recalling last year’s campaign promises of increased accountability and transparency, I submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the town on October 14 for information pertaining to the most recent leaked information about Amherstburg’s fire chief.

On October 26, Tammy Fowkes, Amherstburg Deputy Clerk, returned my request stating, “Unfortunately we cannot process your request until we have received the appropriate documentation. I have included the official form in your return package. I have also enclosed your $5.00 cheque to be returned with the official form.”

According to the access procedure of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. M.56, section 17 states:

A person seeking access to a record shall,

(a) make a request in writing to the institution that the person believes has custody or control of the record;

(b) provide sufficient detail to enable an experienced employee of the institution, upon a reasonable effort, to identify the record; and

(c) at the time of making the request, pay the fee prescribed by the regulations for that purpose.  1996, c. 1, Sched. K, s. 14.”

While a request can be made simply in a letter, I submitted an official request form available at the Information and Privacy Commissioner Ontario website which the town has very slightly modified and deemed ‘appropriate.’

My past inquiries were met with resistance and insolence and, despite a regime change, it appears that pettiness prevails.