Aurora Citizen

News & Views from the Citizens of Aurora Ontario

Archive for the ‘Freedom of Information’ Category

Freedom of Information Update 2

Posted by auroracitizen on April 29, 2010

There have been a number of comments to the original posts on this subject enquiring on the status. 

Past posts:

Freedom of Information Update-March 12

Freedom Of Information and Aurora Coalition – Part 2-Jan 3

Freedom Of Information and Aurora Coalition – Part 1-Dec 30

The update is as follows;

On March 24th, Shannon Boychuk, Acting Deputy Clerk, sent a letter (click on link to see the full letter) to the lawyer indicating that a number of the requests were possibly exempt and that for the balance it would cost $1,065 to cover the costs to locate and provide the requested files.

It is worthy of note that this letter was received at the end of the allowed time for a response. One might wonder why it took so long to respond.  Did they delay the maximum time as a strategy to avoid — or did it actually take that long to craft a response. We’ll leave it to our readers to decide the appropriate answer.

The lawyer then agreed (although they had no choice) to the demand for an additional 40 days to produce the documents as well as sent a cheque to cover the 50% deposit of $532.50 on April 1st.

So now you know everything we know.

We really think is says something about the openness and transparency of this Council where every piece of information must be purchased at a personal cost to a taxpayer.

Maybe if the same principle was applied to Councillors and they were charged for make-work staff reports that are never acted on, we could save money and reduce the time wasted by staff as well. Just a thought.

Stay tuned.

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Posted in Freedom of Information, Leadership | 11 Comments »

Freedom of Information Update

Posted by auroracitizen on March 12, 2010

We have received a number of enquiries about the status of the FOI request we mention back in December. The following update has been provided.

A written request was submitted to the town on December 10, 2009 seeking answers to a number of questions under the Freedom of Information Act.

There was no fee amount enclosed because fees can be variable depending on the amount of time that staff must spend in digging out answers. There were two questions on which the town sought clarification with respect to time-lines. These were dealt with.

Correspondence mid-February and the payment of an interim fee started the 30 day clock running. In addition one of the questions was dropped, as being somewhat vague.

It is now our understanding that the town, through its Acting Clerk, Shannon Boychuk, is obliged to start providing answers within 30 days of the latest email, dated February 22.

We will have to wait and see what these consist of, whether the remaining 10 questions are all addressed, and to what extent the responses are adequate.

Will keep you posted.

Posted in Freedom of Information, Town Council | 5 Comments »

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.

Posted in Freedom of Information | 1 Comment »

Freedom Of Information and Aurora Coalition – Part 2

Posted by auroracitizen on January 3, 2010

The following Freedom of Information requests were submitted by the Aurora Coalition in early December 2009. 

  1. An accounting of all monies paid to or on behalf of the Aurora Farmers Market annually since its inception, and decisions by staff or Council authorizing it.
  2. An accounting of costs to the town, including staff salaries for media and communications responsibilities associated with the Mayor’s office. This should include speech writing and media staff attendance at various events. In addition, please provide the number of staff involved in media and communications at Town at present compared with 2003.
  3. An accounting of any and all activities associated with the Town, together with dollars amounts where Sher and/or George St. Kitts were involved, be they as organizers or performers. This accounting should extend to all other events in which they were involved through the auspices of the Town, staff, members of Council or the Mayor.
  4. What exactly is the “Dream Team”? An accounting of its activities and how any Town monies allocated to support its activities were spent.
  5. An accounting on the raising and expenditure of monies relating to the July First Parades in which Sher St. Kitts was involved.
  6. An accounting of monies spent on Council Members’ lounge for furniture and reconfiguration after the 2006 Municipal election; likewise for the security doors for the Mayor’s and CAO’s area; finally for the new furniture that was delivered to the Mayor’s and COA’s office in October 2009
  7. An accounting of all OMB appeals arising from the Town’s planning/zoning actions, those won and lost, with dollars amounts for external consultations and lawyers, on a case by case basis.
  8. An accounting of time spent during General Committee and Council meetings in open vs in camera session, and during all these times were external lawyers in attendance? How do these hours compare with similar circumstances during 2 previous terms of Aurora’s municipal government/
  9. A list of all buildings owned by the town that are vacant and the annual cost of maintaining them. What efforts have been made to lease, sell or utilize them?
  10. Costs of legal expenses on fees specifically paid to Mr. John Mascarin.

Responses are expected within 30 days, so accounting for holidays, responses should be available soon. We will publish the responses as they become available.

Posted in Community Corner, Community Input, Freedom of Information | 17 Comments »

Freedom Of Information and Aurora Coalition – Part 1

Posted by auroracitizen on December 30, 2009

The Aurora Coalition has run a number of ads in the past few months that included fairly dramatic revelations. Based on Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, it provided information that was not made public by Council. In fact, the financial disclosure by the Aurora Coalition about legal expenditures resulted in Mayor Morris having to “adjust” her previous statements to reflect the accurate numbers.

We understand that the Aurora Coalition recently submitted a list of requests to gather additional information about the activities by Council. We believe these facts should be broadly communicated and citizens should have the opportunity to comment and discuss the issues.

Resultant, we have agreed to work in collaboration with the Aurora Coalition to facilitate discussion through this blog.

We have created a new page — FOI Requests — that will track any FOI request we are made aware of. The first FOI is the one referenced in a recent post by Richard Johnson.

The Aurora Citizen will continue to provide accurate information as it becomes available. Confidentiality will always be respected.

Stay tuned.

Posted in Community Corner, Community Input, Freedom of Information | 4 Comments »

Has Transparency Been Re-defined This Term?

Posted by auroracitizen on December 16, 2009

This is the first of a continuing series of articles by Richard Johnson.

Council Watch — issue #1, by Richard Johnson

I have decided to take up the offer to contribute to Aurora Citizen on a more formal basis. The list of issues and concerns that spring to mind concerning our municipal government seem to offer no end of possible topics that deserve to be raised for consideration and discussion. From my perspective our democracy requires both a detailed examination of the facts as well as debate in order to achieve the best possible results. While most issues may not be clearly black and white in nature, a thorough debate can clarify, refine and sometimes even evolve our respective positions to our collective benefit (at least that is my hope).

Provided enough time, effort and clarity is brought to any given discussion one can expect to see an underlying truth emerge or at the very least the full range of perspectives, regardless of the fact that some details may be debated or the simple fact that we may all view any given issue from a slightly different perspective. With this in mind, I am grateful for the opportunity that the Aurora Citizen has provided everyone in Aurora to express their views and concerns. While we may not all agree all of the time, I can only hope that we can agree to respect and appreciate everyone that cares about the issues facing our town, regardless of their perspective.

Without further adieu, I would like to now get down to business.

For my first topic I would like to raise the issue of transparency and accountability.

While we were all promised a new and higher standard of civility, responsiveness and transparency during the Mayor’s 2006 inaugural speech it strikes me that in reality we have been subject to something quite different. Local reporter Sean Pearce has been forced more than once to file Freedom of Information requests in order to obtain what appears to be simple answers to basic questions, as has been my regrettable experience. In fact the 2009 file number (#39) that was assigned to my two recent Freedom of Information requests may suggest that over 40 questions have been submitted to the town through this last resort method of inquiry in order to hold the government accountable, but that is another question for another time.

After receiving no response following multiple weeks and multiple e-mails to the Town Clerk in which I was merely trying to understand a simple Council Procedure that appeared to have been potentially politically manipulated in order to serve the Mayor’s self interest, I felt compelled to file a Freedom of Information request on November 11th. You will note in the Freedom of Information response from the Town of Aurora, that there are no written procedures for editing the town’s website, therefore my initial reasons for concern in this instance appear to have been well founded.

The FOI response states that when material is posted on the town’s website at the direction of Council the “staff  generally requires direction from Council regarding the removal of the posting” and “The posting regarding the Code of Conduct complaint will be removed from the town’s website upon direction of Council.” 

Here-in lies the conundrum: how can Council ever contemplate the removal of the unsubstantiated and potentially politically motivated accusations posted on the town’s website attacking Councilor Evelyn Buck if, according to the Mayor, raising a motion to remove the material is considered to be “reconsideration” of an earlier motion posted the material in the first place ?  The Mayor’s handling of this issue at council strikes me as being not only indefensible but absurd.

It should not have required a response to an FOI request to come to this rather obvious conclusion given that the Mayor’s apparently broken logic was raised for discussion by Councillor McRoberts and Collins-Mrakas at the same time that numerous councillors stated for the record that they wanted to “move on” from the whole code of conduct issue, however true to form their comments were apparently ignored by the Mayor and her block of supporters.

I’m open to hearing all perspective related to this story, however based on the facts as I know them today this situation looks to me to be rather transparent and clear cut from my perspective.

Posted in Code of Ethics, Council Watch-Richard Johnson, Freedom of Information, Integrity, Leadership | 12 Comments »