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Month: September 2011

All Wings Report In

City Manager Simon Farbrother fights through traffic en route to report to City Council on arena negotiations between the CoE and the Empir….Katz Group

On September 23rd, Edmonton’s City Council will be holding a special meeting to hear an update on arena negotiations.  Don’t bother going, its one agenda item is ‘private’.

Proposed Arena Project Update – Verbal Report

Sections 16, 21, 23, 24, 25, 27 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act

It’s definitely not the first time Simon Farbrother has updated Council in private:

September 14th,

8.3

City Manager Update – Arena Project – Verbal Report

Item 8.3 – Addendum

Sections 16, 21, 23, 24, 25 and 27 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act

April 6th,

Verbal Report – Potential Downtown Arena – Update on Negotiated Outcomes Passed

Sections 16, 23, 24 and 27 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act

 

March 2nd,

9.1

Update on Arena Negotiations – Verbal Report K. Leibovici

Sections 16, 23, 24 and 27 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act

 

If you spend enough time looking through Council agendas, you’ll find that a ‘verbal report’ for a private item isn’t the most uncommon thing to happen in Council chambers.  A several hundred million dollar public investment into a proposed city-owned, privately run facility, with the majority of proposed revenue going to the minority investor is on the other hand, not so common.  While publicly releasing a report may indeed compromise the city’s bargaining position with the Katz group at this time, a deal this large, this controversial, and with so many on-going issues regarding process and transparency, at the very least deserves a paper trail for future decision makers, public servants, and members of the public who may wish to use the Freedom of Information Act to peer into this issue in the future.  Even if it ends up sitting on the shelf, unread by everyone but a city manager, 12 councillors and a mayor for the next several years, there’s no FOIPing the City Manager’s brain.  Having a written report prepared for Council leaves open the opportunity to peer into the arena deal in the future, even if it is post-mortem.

 

*Update, Sept 23

So a public component was added to the meeting 😉

In-Private Discussions
It is the City Manager’s intent to discuss
in public those things that can be
discussed in public.
You can checkout some of the meeting's Twitter coverage at the Edmonton Journal

FOIP’ed Ya!

The FOIP Act adds to all the other rights of individuals and organizations with respect to the access to information and protection of personal information within local public bodies.

Good business practices are the best way to operate in a FOIP environment. When you are making notes, or sending an e-mail, write it as though it could appear on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow. The Act doesn’t allow severing to avoid embarrassment. If events are recorded in an accurate, descriptive fashion, there is no cause for alarm in releasing records.

I mentioned e-mail: as e-mails are records, if we received a FOIP request, e-mails would be considered for release. It is worth mentioning them specifically as sometimes people are more casual in how they write e-mails, or mix business and pleasure in one note as if it were a phone call.

From:

The FOIP Act. Presentation for Elected Officials

www.servicealberta.ca/foip/documents/newly-elected-officials-foip-speaking-notes.rtf

________________________________________

The FOIP act does make it possible for individuals and organizations to acquire the correspondence of individual politicians relating to government business.  In my experience, it’s neither easy nor possible without several months of exchanging correspondence and occasionally barbs with FOIP coordinators.  I’ve done it twice in the course of my volunteer activities, in relation to a specific decision and a government program.  Both requests took nearly six-months, with one ending successfully with delivery of the requested records, and the other ending in a dispute which the Privacy Commissioner ultimately refused to move on to an adjudicator.

The FOIP act does work to protect the personal lives of politicians and the right to individual privacy.  No need to worry about a FOIP coordinator copying letters to your mother and the notes on your fridge.

So when the business of government starts taking place away from formal channels, the communication resources paid for by our taxes and access to Freedom of Information requests, is there an issue?

Morton accused of evading public scrutiny with secondary email address, shredded documents

Campaign spokesman insists both practices common in government

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/Morton+accused+evading+public+scrutiny+with+secondary+email/5371349/story.html

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/prairies/alberta-investigating-tory-leadership-candidate/article2159129/

“I think I’ve done nothing out of the ordinary,” Morton said

Premier Ed Stelmach confirmed that he, too, maintains a secondary email address and uses it to conduct government business. Former deputy premier and leadership candidate Doug Horner also used a separate government email to do ministerial work.

Do provincial FOIP coordinators have access to all secondary communication channels, outside the control of the Government of Alberta, used to conduct formal government business?  Are these email addresses subject to the same data retention policies and practices in use on officially provided communication tools?  Has official government business conducted on secondary addresses been excluded from Freedom of Information Requests; ie, considered personal, not government correspondence?

Until questions are answered, I’d call this a wee bit of a problem, definitely one worthy of further investigation, both at the provincial and municipal levels.  As for it being “out of the ordinary”, well, if everyone is potentially dodging the FOIP act, intentionally or not, then I guess it isn’t.