Accessing Information In Amherstburg

Commentary by Linda Saxon

The purpose of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, 1991, is:

a) To provide a right of access to information under the control of government organizations in accordance with the following principles:

information should be available to the public;

exemptions to the right of access should be limited and specific;

decisions on the disclosure of government information may be reviewed by the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

b) To protect personal information held by government organizations and to provide individuals with a right of access to their own personal information.

Given the number of appeals and breaches of information I have endured, I would like to hear from other residents.

How open is government in Amherstburg? How are informal requests for information handled? What about Freedom of Information requests – are they routinely denied?

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.

Information And Privacy Commission Orders Town of Amherstburg To Disclose Records

Summary: The appellant sought access to two archeological assessment reports prepared in 1994 and 1997 relating to a specified location. The town and the landowner claimed the application of the third party information exemption in section 10(1) to the reports. In this order, the adjudicator does not uphold the application of section 10(1) to the records on the basis that the third part of the test under that exemption has not been met. The town was ordered to disclose the records to the appellant.

Read the full Order.

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.

Accessibility Concerns Misunderstood

Commentary by Linda Saxon

In a letter to the editor, River Town Times, April 8, I expressed my concerns regarding town council’s pre-approval of grants to four community organizations: the Park House Museum, North American Black Historical Museum, Amherstburg Community Services and the House of Shalom Youth Centre.

It would appear, in a letter the RTT published this week from Kathy DiBartolomeo, Amherstburg Community Services, that my concerns were misunderstood.

To reiterate, council is using taxpayer dollars to grant these requests, despite a well-publicized 46 million dollar debt and promises of fiscal responsibility to control and/or reduce it.

Ms. DiBartolomeo believes that my “concern over the town’s website and accessibility to information and the importance of all of the agencies and organizations that receive community grants are two different issues.”

I disagree. Council has not found money over the past twelve years to ensure the town’s website and its documents are universally accessible, but community organizations have received approximately $360,000.00 in grant funding in that time frame.

Policy F10-Grants to Community Groups, enacted May 25, 2005 and amended September 22, 2008 is another outdated municipal policy that needs to be updated.

Council should include accessibility criteria as a requirement when evaluating grant requests from organizations. Additionally, council needs to enact a municipal policy that no public funds will ever be used to create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities.

Because of a lack of an accessibility requirement, shamefully, council has committed taxpayers’ dollars to four organizations that maintain websites with accessibility issues.

Town council approves $27,500 in community grants

Ron Giofu reported in the River Town Times that “Elected officials voted unanimously Monday night to pre-approve the grants as part of the 2015 budget, noting the value the agencies and organizations that requested the money give to the community.”

Councillor Jason Lavigne was quoted as saying, “I’m going to fund these groups no matter what.”

Firstly, it’s the taxpayers that are funding these groups, thanks to council’s decision, which I disagree with. I’d rather personally decide what, if any, organizations receive my donations. Accordingly, the organizations could extend their fundraising activities to seek more donations from those supporting individuals and/or corporations instead of requesting taxpayer funding.

Secondly, given Amherstburg’s much publicized debt crisis, council knew it would be faced with tough decisions during last fall’s municipal election campaign when we heard numerous promises of fiscal responsibility.

Councillor Leo Meloche was also in favour of keeping the groups funded, suggesting that town vehicles that need replacing be stretched out for another year.

Has accessibility also taken a back seat yet again? Council has not found money over the past twelve years to ensure the town’s website and its documents are universally accessible, nor has it demonstrated a strong commitment to a more inclusive community.

Council concluded these agencies and organizations are of value to the community, but council should include accessibility criteria in its evaluation of monetary requests.

Last fall I asked the candidates if they would commit to a municipal policy that no public funds will ever be used to create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities. A range of opinions was expressed by those who chose to answer, but the most impressive response was candidate Joshua Rene’s, who said, “I am frankly surprised that this question still has to be asked.”

I still strongly believe a policy is needed so council can consider the impact of its decisions on everyone, including persons with disabilities.

Commentary by Linda Saxon

Passionate About Policing

Commentary by Linda Saxon

The idea of regional policing, amalgamated services and/or OPP policing has surfaced many times, but official costings were not always obtained so that a true comparison of ‘apples to apples’ could have been made.

In the meantime, for decades, Amherstburg taxpayers have paid a hefty price for a top heavy ‘local police service’ while elected officials disregarded the opportunity to reduce debt, provide increased accessibility or amenities with an estimated annual savings of a million dollars with an OPP option.

Historically, there has been an emphasis on the ‘local‘ officers by politicians and Chief Tim Berthiaume, who boasted that over 50 per cent of the officers are native to Amherstburg, including himself – a fact that has very little, if anything, to do with qualifications or efficient and effective policing.

Are the less than 50 per cent not native to Amherstburg less valued?

The River Town Times reports that A petition is being circulated to keep the police force local: “Meloche said her encounters with local police officers have been “very friendly” and “whenever you call them, they are there.” She said she didn’t want to see a situation where out-of-town officers are rotated into Amherstburg and not have an understanding of the community.”

Out of towners would be expected to provide professional policing services; wouldn’t suggesting otherwise be just as illogical as touting local employees as the best and only option despite the high cost?

In another RTT article, Mayor Aldo DiCarlo mentioned that Chief Tim Berthiaume as well as the Amherstburg Police Association could be utilized to gather input and analysis of the bids. Would anyone be surprised if either the Chief or the Association found fault with any proposal but the local option?

I disagree with DiCarlo, who said the police budget is “cut and dry” and that the current force is a “lean” one. Compare any OPP detachment to the local department and the difference in cost is due to the hierarchical structure and costing method.

The community needs to decide if it’s worth paying the cost to keep it local for tradition sake or if it’s time to admit that tax savings are needed, not tax increases.

Some would argue the safest community in all of canada designation is due to the Amherstburg Police efforts. I disagree; firstly, the statement is not factual and secondly, the caveat is that the statistics are only as good as those that were submitted; for example, if crime/incidents were not investigated, and therefore not submitted, they would not be included in the statistics.

Regardless, community input is needed and an objective decision has to be made. I, for one, can not support a local option that, in my opinion, handcuffs ratepayers and influences any decision because of unrealistic severance packages.

I have been a vocal critic of the Amherstburg Police for a long time; some of the reasons can be found at bullying in policing.

See also Discriminatory Language in Amherstburg Police Service Contract.

Amherstburg police continue to test body-worn video cameras

Amherstburg Police was scheduled to conclude its study by the end of 2014 and select a body worn camera for patrol officers or shelve the project if not feasible for APS needs.
Now Berthiaume says, “I’m happy with the results so far but we’re still evaluating.”

Procedural By-law Status Unknown

Commentary by Linda Saxon

This was written in response to Anthony Leardi’s comments in his RTT Guest Column November 5, 2014.

I do not believe the issue is the Mayor’s postponement of meetings since the council approved procedural by-law clause provides him with the authority to do so; that is not a loophole.

And yes, ‘everyone still gets a pay cheque’ because of his or her salaried positions, elected or otherwise, regardless of how many meetings were held or cancelled.

As for the lawyer being called, council was free to accept or reject his advice.

Since the clerk did not adhere to the mandatory clause to call a meeting according to both the Municipal Act and the procedural by-law, the issue is why council allowed the non-compliance and what, if any, action it took as a result.

A new procedural by-law was to have been approved back in August but due to a lengthy meeting, there was a motion to defer the report and by-law to September 8, although it was not included on that agenda.

There was no notice to the public regarding the draft Procedural By-law because apparently there is no requirement for notice.

Regardless, I submitted my comprehensive review to members of council on September 7.

On October 7, I requested the status on my procedural by-law submission that no one had responded to.

On October 20, I submitted my review to the clerk, who acknowledged that it would be added to the next scheduled meeting, which I assumed was November 3 as a result of the petition.

The 2008 Procedural By-law has not changed in six years, so why the current council would approve a new one defies logic.

Hopefully, the new council will examine job descriptions, areas of responsibility, codes of conduct and actually be transparent and accountable.

Job Experience Needed?

Is previous council experience really needed? Four years ago, three candidates without any council experience were elected to council: Ron Sutherland, Carolyn Davies and Bart DiPasquale. During the past four tumultuous years, residents witnessed:

  • a high rate of staff turnover
  • a record amount of debt
  • flip flops on the:
    • financial audit
    • St. Joseph’s Church in River Canard
    • Sandwich Street repaving
    • installation of railings at what is now the Libro Centre
  • the discussion of the sale of a municipal asset – essex power shares
  • public input not being welcomed
  • two references to ‘lynching’ regarding a public meeting
  • Ombudsman Ontario’s finding that council contravened the Municipal Act by voting in a closed session in March 2011
  • Ombudsman Ontario’s Report that confirmed council repeatedly contravened the Municipal Act and its own procedure by-law. Council discussed issues in closed session that were not permitted under the exceptions to the Municipal Act, and also routinely engaged in improper voting behind closed doors in December 2011
  • UCCU Centre naming scandal and subsequent lawsuit
  • no commitment to the cost-saving OPP policing option
  • grants for the tourist booth and Laird Avenue and not Texas Road
  • the decision to close the tourist booth due to budget
  • 5 CAOs in four years
  • the hiring of CAO Phipps, his notice to leave and then his decision to stay
  • a council approved secretive process to hire CAO Miceli
  • a lack of provincially mandated policies
  • a lack of commitment to accessibility, including the town’s website.

Is this the experience the community wants to continue with? Tomorrow’s the big day – it’s up to the voters to decide what they need.

November 3 Council Meeting On, Off, On And Off Again

Commentary by Linda Saxon

An October 20 post that the November 3 meeting would be held was subsequent to a petition to Paula Parker to call a special meeting following Mayor Wayne Hurst’s postponement of meetings.

A day later, the town posted a notice on its website that the November 3 meeting was postponed and rescheduled to Monday, November 17, 2014.

Are the Municipal Act and the town’s procedural by-law both not being complied with? Both are quite clear and specifically contain a mandatory clause for when the clerk shall call a meeting:

Section 240. of the Act: Subject to the procedure by-law passed under section 238,
(b) upon receipt of a petition of the majority of the members of council, the clerk shall call a special meeting for the purpose and at the time mentioned in the petition.

Procedural By-Law Section 9. b) the clerk shall summon a special meeting upon receipt of a petition of the majority of the council members for the purpose and at the time and date mentioned in the petition.

The issue is not the Mayor’s postponement, but who is making decisions that circumvent Council members’ legislated authority to call a Special Meeting and what will be done about it.

Craig Pearson, The Windsor Star, reports CAO Miceli also said that, after discussing the councillors’ petition with a town lawyer, he determined a special meeting was not warranted. “I advised all the members of council that calling for a special meeting is not to deal with regular town business,” Miceli said. “It’s to deal with special issues. What they (the councillors) proposed to discuss at that meeting did not meet the criteria for a special meeting.”

Special meetings of council 2014 were held to consider issues ranging from zoning by-law amendments and drain improvements to the Sale of Shares Offer from Entegrus Inc.

Since there is no criteria for a special meeting in either the Municipal Act or Procedural By-Law, and since both contain clear language, I would argue that there is no basis whatsoever for any objection to a majority of council calling a special meeting.

Town Hall Removing Election Signs

The Municipal Elections Act does not regulate signs, but an amended town Election Policy does and the candidates have been put on notice through a series of emails:

October 10, Paula Parker, Manager of Municipal Governance for the town emailed the candidates:

In light of a few election sign complaints, please note that all signs should be placed on private property.

Section 70(4) of The Municipal Elections Act specifically prohibits a municipality from making a contribution to a candidate’s election campaign. The Act also prohibits a candidate, or someone acting on the candidate’s behalf, from accepting a contribution from a person who is not entitled to make a contribution.

Contributions, as defined in section 66(1) of the Elections Act are; money, goods and services. As such, any use by a candidate of the Corporation’s resources for his or her election campaign, would be seen as a contribution by the Town to the candidate, which is a violation of the Act.

As a result of the above noted, and as per the recently amended Town of Amherstburg Election Policy (attached again for your reference), please refrain from putting signs on municipal property. (this includes municipal road allowances)

If you have any questions regarding where your signs should be located, administration is always here to help. Feel free to call or email.

October 20 at 12:08 pm, Paula Parker advised the candidates that the town was still receiving complaints about election signs and that effective 12 pm on the following day, the policy would be enforced and signs on municipal property would be removed. Signs removed by the town would be available for pick up on October 22.

October 20, Aldo DiCarlo emailed Paula Parker that it would be helpful to know whose signs have been complained about.

October 20 Paula Parker responded: The purpose of the previous email was to provide all candidates with information as it relates to the Town’s Election Policy.  In cases where a contravention of the Town’s Election Policy were noted, the Town has been proactive and has directly contacted those candidates affected.

This email also serves as a reminder to all candidates that the Town will continue to monitor the situation and take appropriate action where necessary.

October 21 Marc Renaud notified Paula Parker that signs were removed on Fort and Balaclava without notification.

October 21 Paula Parker advised that yesterday’s email served as notice that signs would be removed today at 12pm if they were on Town property and available for pick up October 22.

October 21 Glenn Swinton emailed Paula Parker: Having not received ANY such notification, I will assume that all of my issued signage is compliant and exactly where I left it.

October 21 Paula Parker replied: On August 11, 2014, Council adopted the Election Policy. The report advised Council that the Election Policy would supersede the Town’s Sign By-law in accordance with Section 70(4) and 66(1) of the Municipal Elections Act. All candidates were advised of these sections of the Act via email on Friday, October 10, 2014. The Town will continue to enforce the Election Policy up to and including Election Day. We are asking all candidates to abide by the Council approved Election Policy.

I hope that you can appreciate that the Town does not only manage its responsibilities through a complaint driven process, but also takes the necessary steps to enforce Town policies as required, with a proactive approach. Elections are sensitive in nature and the Town must govern itself accordingly.

October 21 Glenn Swinton responded: Please don’t patronize me by trying to suggest the town takes a proactive approach on policies. Without beating a dead horse on the subject please note,

Your “Election Policy” as amended August 11, 2014 clearly states:

12-b) “Election signs shall be removed if a complaint is received about a specific sign;”

12-c) ” The candidate shall, within 24 hours after receiving verbal instructions from a municipal official, remove a sign that contravenes the above. The Town reserves the right to remove election signs if the candidate fails to remove the contravening sign/signs within the 24-hour time frame.”

By way of your own policy I suggest the Town of Amherstburg has illegally removed campaigning signs outside of the “election Policy” provided from your office. Since this chain of emails has been shared with all, including the current Council members of Amherstburg that are seeking re-election, perhaps one of them could jump in and direct their staff on the laws they have passed for the taxpayers.

This is ridiculous.

I Found The Difference

Commentary by Linda Saxon

Mayoral Candidate John Sutton asked “Can you find the difference???” on his facebook page to compare his campaign plan to Mayoral Candidate Aldo DiCarlo’s.

Sutton states that Step one of his plan is “to engage the Community, Council and Administration in a Strategic Planning Process that focuses on the future direction and desired level of service our community deserves.”

Sutton:

  • has not answered any questions from the burg watch readers, members of the community, who asked the candidates to address their concerns.
  • chose not to attend the ACRG Meet The Candidates Event.
  • did not answer ACRG questions about the police contract; Berthiaume made a presentation
  • ignored two emails regarding his website’s accessibility issues.
  • said the board’s decision to accept the $110,000.00 settlement offer from Cst. Colleen Sterling’s lawyer was “a business decision.”
  • selectively provides information, “The majority of municipalities (207 out of 322) served by the OPP will see their policing costs increase under this new formula.” note: 207 will see an average increase of about $83 per property, while 115 communities will see their cost decrease by about $70 per property.
  • as a police services board member/candidate has not committed to negotiating the removal of the ‘poison pill’ clause that only applies to disbandment and the OPP
  • has not answered specific questions about the contract: if a consultant was hired to negotiate and if there was a competitive process.
  • states, ‘we must continue to lobby the Province of Ontario to make changes to the arbitration system that has systematically driven up the costs of policing.’ note: according to the Police Association of Ontario’s Interest Arbitration Facts, “The fact is that Ontario’s arbitration system is not broken … in fact it is rarely used.”
  • claims “…Amherstburg the safest place in Canada for three consecutive years.” note: Barrie is the safest city in Canada, says crime rate stats
  • is a member of the police services board that is a respondent in James Saxon v. Amherstburg Police Service Board and Amherstburg Police Association regarding an allegation of discrimination because of age.

By comparison,

DiCarlo:

  • has stated he will engage the community
  • has answered all the questions from the burg watch readers
  • was the only Mayoral Candidate to answer Lloyd Brown-John’s questions
  • answered my personal questions posted here on the burg watch
  • answered all my personal questions i emailed to him.

So yes, I found the difference and I am confident other voters will too.