Aurora Citizen

News & Views from the Citizens of Aurora Ontario

Freedom of Information

Posted by evelynb on January 22, 2010

It seems many people believe a request for Freedom of Information needs to be filed in order to get any information from the Town Hall.

It’s not the case. In public service, information is currency.

Probably 99% is a matter of public record. If a request involves preparation and copying documents, there has to be a fee. If you want town staff to do research and prepare documents, you need to pay for that service.

The Aurora Library has records. The town’s web site also. Public meetings are all recorded. Agendas and minutes are available. About everything you always wanted to know about the Town Hall is on the web site.

Traditionally, the town clerk’s office provides information. If an inquiry needs to be directed to a particular department, they will steer it accordingly. People who work in the public service, generally like what they do. They are inclined to do it well.

E-mails generally get a prompt response. The Mayor’s Office and Councillors are also a resource. It’s an important part of our function.

Last term, we talked about streaming council meetings. It would have meant you could log in to council meetings at will. We had the technology. We needed extra hands. They were not provided.

Having to file an application for Freedom of Information should be a last resort.

If you were asking for a list of all recorded votes in the past three years and it required 84 pages of print and numerous man- hours to compile, that would cost you a tidy sum. But if you thought it would prove something and really wanted it, you could do the work yourself from records available.

Personally I found the report too tedious to read let alone research. One thing it revealed was a frightening lack of knowledge among people who should know the purpose of a recorded vote.

The only significant item I have had trouble obtaining, was my last request for legal expenditures of the previous two and a half years.

The first time I asked the cost of Mr. Rust D’Eye’s service. It took a little while to compile but a figure of $16,200 was provided by the treasurer without demur. The Mayor later stated Mr. Rust D’Eye had written or helped to write the Code of Conduct. That came after I received the figure mentioned. Obviously, there was an additional fee for that service.

Next time I asked, I received a sheaf of invoices for three months service. It was never at any time suggested information about legal costs were not my right to receive. Quite the opposite in fact.

My next request encountered no initial opposition but the figures were not produced either. My right to know hadn’t changed. Principles don’t.  But after the solicitor consulted with the Chief Administrative Officer, a convoluted resolution approved by council, directed the interim treasurer to compile accounts in a particular fashion. He agreed. The resolution was taken by the solicitor to mean my request for the list of expenditures could not be granted

I think we may take that as example of the “change” referred to by the Mayor in her New Year’s message.

A citizen’s group filed a request under Freedom of Information for details of legal expenditures. The time frame of the request is not known.

Solicitors present invoices according to their own schedule. Whether information was up to date at the time of the citizen group’s request I cannot say. Although there was an apparent discrepancy between a previous report and the information provided in response to the FOI request.

Providing information freely and without equivocation tells a story.

Refusal to provide it tells another. Both are a revelation.

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One Response to “Freedom of Information”

  1. someone who loves this town more than Anonymous said

    Interesting article in the Star:

    “Conservatives accused of hiding information”
    http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/763033–conservatives-accused-of-hiding-information?bn=1

    sound familiar Aurora?

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