On March 2, 2017 I sent a letter to the Mayor and Council in the Village of Morrin to be discussed at the March 15 meeting.
I waited for my information to be brought forward. Eventually it was, but was put under “in camera.” This was not an in camera issue in my opinion.
The issue was with the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ms. Plachner attempting to force me to pay $53 for documents I had already paid $25 under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The regulations are very clear that if the estimate is under $150, no further fee is to be paid.
The CAO refused to abide by the FOIPP rules and stated she wasn’t going to argue, I must succumb to her demands.
My plight was brought to the attention of Mayor Lacher and Deputy Mayor MacLeod after the meeting on Feb. 15.
I provided a copy of the FOIPP regulation for them to read and then to have the CAO comply with regulation. The regulations were obviously shared but the result has a twist. As the threshold for me to have to pay for access is set at $150 the CAO Plachner now demanded $160, just over the $150 threshold.
I was told that if I didn’t pay that amount I couldn’t have the public documents I was requesting.
I contacted the Privacy Commissioner’s Office in Calgary and asked if I could revise my request in writing. I was told I could.
I then reduced my request by almost 50 per cent.
Once CAO Plachner received the reduction from my original request, I was sent another letter stating that it was still going to cost me $160 because she was now going to charge me overtime.
There is no allowance for charging overtime for access to information in any act, regulation or bylaw.
This was very simply an abuse of authority.
The job of the FOIPP coordinator is normally assigned to CAO’s in municipalities. The FOIPP coordinators are to make every possible effort to assist and accommodate residents in obtaining documents, but for some reason our Village Office does everything possible to restrict access.
A few examples are: originally I was told I couldn’t receive copies of the minutes of council meetings even though I offered to pay for them. I was told I had to go through the FOIPP process.
This process is costly and time consuming.
Secondly, I was told I was not entitled to receive copies of the Village agenda for council meetings due to the Freedom of Privacy Act (made up act).
I was then told that financial records were not public documents.
To top it off, so nobody could possibly afford to review any record, Council made a bylaw/policy where we would have to pay $55 for one page of public documents and a dollar for every page after that.
I know of no other municipality where requests for information is so difficult to obtain.
This is hardly a proper way to deal with residents trying to keep their CAO and council accountable, but it certainly is necessary. I have been dealing with this restrictive behaviour for almost two years now.
I have to say that after much cost in time, money for a lawyer, phone calls to the Privacy Commissioner, letters and phone calls to Municipal Affairs and the Minister’s Office, I am now receiving copies of the minutes and agenda at a cost of $1.50 per meeting and just this month I have finally received some of the accounts payable from Feb. 16 – 28, 2017 at a cost of $6.50 for five pages.
After the “in camera” session at the March 15 meeting and adjournment, the Mayor and Deputy Mayor jointly stated that, as they don’t know anything about the FOIPP Act, they couldn’t do anything with my complaint.
As anybody knows, Council is the CAO’s employer but rather than deal with abuse of authority by the CAO, Council chose to do nothing.
By not dealing with the abuse of authority, it leaves the CAO to continue doing what she has been doing, only now with the Mayor and Council’s consent.
So another long process begins with the Privacy Commissioner and eventually the Ombudsman.
The end result was, I refused to pay anymore than what the regulations said I would have to pay in the first instance which prompted CAO Plachner to send me a letter stating that as I didn’t pay the $160, my request was rejected.
So again, I not only don’t get what I am entitled to (for now) but I lose my initial $25 provided in good faith hoping to get some financial records so I can see how our tax dollars are being spent.
If anybody is interested in reading the letter I sent to the Mayor and Council for their action please contact me at my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be happy to share it with you.