Qualicum staff response: not good enough



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Janet Ovington and Rick Barber encourage people to sign up as organ donors.

Despite an apology from town staff, the Qualicum Beach Residents Association is throwing up its hands in its attempts to find out about the process used to come up with changes to the town’s official community plan.

Janet Raines of the QBRA said action on a freedom of information request to the town was not only slow, but when the documents finally arrived, they were less than complete.

Although a request was made on March 20 under the Freedom of Information Act, Raines said the town didn’t give them any documents until June 11 and withheld 132 pages of documents.

“Our board has two concerns about the outcome of this long process,” she said. “First and foremost, we are very disappointed that residents of our town were required to go to these lengths to access information about the deliberations of our elected officials.

“Second, we are alarmed that town officials should withhold such a large portion of the requested information.”

She said some of the documents provided pre-dated the Jan. 19 meeting in question by up to three years.

“The purpose of our Freedom of Information application was to acquire any information that might provide insight into council deliberations related to proposed changes to the Official Community Plan,” the QBRA board said in a prepared statement. “We have not found significant information contained in the documents that were released to us. At the same time, we have no way of knowing whether the 132 pages that have been withheld contain significant information.”

She said some of the documents provided pre-dated the Jan. 19 meeting in question by up to three years.

“The purpose of our Freedom of Information application was to acquire any information that might provide insight into council deliberations related to proposed changes to the Official Community Plan,” the QBRA board said in a prepared statement. “We have not found significant information contained in the documents that were released to us.

“At the same time, we have no way of knowing whether the 132 pages that have been withheld contain significant information.”

Mark Brown, the town’s chief administrative officer conceded the response to the request was tardy.

“You are allowed 30 working days and staff can give ourselves an additional 30 days by notifying them,” Brown said. “That would have taken us to June 15, so we did comply with the intent of the legislation. What was missed was simply not communicating with the applicant that we needed another 30 working days.”

Brown said any decisions regarding what documents to release and which to withhold were made entirely independently of council.

“It’s a staff issue, not a council issue,” he said. “They are not involved in FOI requests. It’s a decision of staff to do that. There is legislation under the act to provide exceptions to what we release and any draft resolutions or draft  bylaws or deliberations in meetings that were in the absence of the public, for statutory reasons, we can’t provide.”

Brown said some of the more dated material was sent to the QBRA as a helpful gesture.

“The additional information was intended to be helpful to them,” he said. “We provided additional information to give them more background.”

Brown again apologized to the group for the delay.

“It’s a lot of records to go through to determine what can or can’t be released,” he said.

The residents’ association wasn’t impressed.

“Our residents have always relied on democratic processes that are open and transparent,” the QBRA said in their release. “In this instance, it has been our experience that accessing informaiton related to the town’s democratic processes were not fully available to us.”

As well, the group suggested the experience was yet one more example of a growing isolation of the town council from the community.

“The decision by a majority of the council to terminate residents’ participation in committees and commisions further limits the ability of residents to interact effectively with town staff and elected officials,” they said. “The board of directors of the QBRA finds this situation to be both regrettable and cause for concern by all residents of Qualicum Beach.”

The residents’ association said they have no further plans to pursue the matter.

 

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