New Enhanced Accessible Parking Permit (APP) and Enforcement-Related Supports

Commentary by Linda Saxon

All Chiefs of Police, Ontario’s municipalities, and the Municipal Law Enforcement Officers Association have been advised about the new enhanced Accessible Parking Permit (APP) and enforcement-related supports.

Enforcement of accessible parking infractions in Amherstburg in the past, verified by former Police Chief Roger Hollingworth, was minimal; he confirmed that Amherstburg did not have new tickets for bylaw enforcement until January 30, 2009.

In 2009, the Amherstburg Police Service issued one accessible parking infraction and one more by the spring of 2010; Hollingworth advised the town By-Law Officer may also have issued some but he did not have that information or specific information relative to the number that were contested and/or proceeded to trial and/or convictions, if any.

Since the Town of Amherstburg 2015 Public Events Manual contains outdated terminology, for example, “disabled persons parking spaces and Designated Disabled Parking spaces;” it needs to be updated to reflect the fact that the Accessible Parking Permit (APP) was renamed years ago.

And, although the manual mentions barrier free, there is no reference regarding what barrier free standard, if any, is to be implemented.

Not one member of the current council responded to my suggestions to improve and update the town’s Public Events Manual.

Taxpayers Pay For Private Firms To Obtain Public Input

Last fall, the Wynne Government announced a controversial decision to hire the Deloitte firm for $415,000. to consult the public on the Government’s problem-ridden idea of a private accessibility certification process being established. The AODA Alliance reports that the Government is not having its own Accessibility Directorate conduct this consultation.

Amherstburg has hired MDB Insight to create a community based strategic plan for just over $36,000. According to MDB Insight’s website, ‘We have grown into Canada’s largest specialist economic development consultancy and continue to evolve to meet the needs of our clients.’

In its January 31, 2016 article, the River Town Times reported that ‘Miceli said the matter has not yet gone to the town’s economic development committee, and told town council it is in the preliminary stages. The next step will be how to engage stakeholders such as the economic development committee and the community as a whole.’

Maybe council should put the unused money budgeted for the strategic plan consultant toward hiring an expert accessible web designer to ensure, finally, that the town of Amherstburg website is accessible.

Commentary by Linda Saxon

Privacy Concerns Regarding Downtown Survey Founded

In a December 20, 2015 post, I mentioned privacy concerns about the study given that the town and Amherstburg police have breached my personal information.

I emailed members of council that I would participate as long as the collection was in compliance with the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA). There should have been a notice pursuant to Act that addressed the collection, use, access and disclosure of personal information by the town.

Not one elected official responded to my privacy concerns.

Following a formal complaint, the Information and Privacy Commissioner Ontario confirmed that the Town of Amherstburg’s advertisement regarding the downtown use survey did not satisfy all of the notice requirements in section 29(2) of the Act.

Specifically, it did not notify residents of the legal authority for the collection of their personal information or provide information about whom to contact with any questions about the collection.

The Information and Privacy Commission advised that town clerk Paula Parker acknowledged that, in this case, the town did not use its usual personal information collection disclaimer and that the advertisement and online survey was not vetted through the Clerk’s department before publication. Ms. Parker confirmed that the Town will put a procedure in place that requires the Clerk’s department to vet the collection of personal information before publication.

I subsequently emailed Ms. Parker, copied to council, to notify her that an address was missing from the strategic plan survey notice per the Act.

Commentary by Linda Saxon

Budget officially passed, tax rate increases 2.3 per cent

Ron Giofu, River Town Times reported that the 2016 budget has now been passed and taxes are on the rise 2.3 per cent.

Town council made it official Monday night after approving the budget at that level seven days earlier. The budget passed on a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Aldo DiCarlo and councillors Jason Lavigne and Leo Meloche voting in favor. Councillors Rick Fryer and Diane Pouget were opposed.

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale and Councillor Joan Courtney were absent from Monday night’s meeting.

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)

Privacy Concerns With Citizen Engagement Survey – Use of the Downtown Core

Commentary by Linda Saxon

According to the Town of Amherstburg website, “A Citizen Engagement Session For Use Of The Downtown Core (Mardi Gras)” was held at the Legion on Dalhousie Street, Amherstburg on December 3.

The Town of Amherstburg then placed an ad in the December 16 River Town Times advertising “A Citizen Engagement Survey For Use Of The Downtown Core” and directing residents to the recent news section of the town’s website, which is still difficult to navigate and lacks some very basic accessibility features.

I don’t know why it’s necessary for the town to know the name and address of the person providing input; however, given that the town and amherstburg police have breached my personal information, I would have preferred a Notice as set out in section 29 (b) of the MFIPPA (Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act) which states:

Notice to individual

(2) If personal information is collected on behalf of an institution, the head shall inform the individual to whom the information relates of,

(a) the legal authority for the collection;

(b) the principal purpose or purposes for which the personal information is intended to be used; and

(c) the title, business address and business telephone number of an officer or employee of the institution who can answer the individual’s questions about the collection.  R.S.O. 1990, c. M.56, s. 29 (2).

There was also no information pertaining to the access, retention, or disposal of the personal information, no place to give informed consent or notice that permission would be sought prior to anyone else requesting access.

Seeking input from residents is a great proactive and democratic approach by decision makers; I would just like to ensure that personal information is protected in the process.

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