Town of Qualicum Beach staff members have been overwhelmed by a high volume of Freedom of Information requests during the last 18 months.
CAO Daniel Sailland informed council at its committee of the whole meeting on April 21, that at times it has occupied the full-time attention of key staff members.
“That has translated into some overtime work in different areas as we try to keep things moving forward,” said Sailland. “We’re just aren’t equipped with the volume that has come in, in the last 18 months. The exact percentage, it’s hard for me to say.”
Sailland indicated if this continues to be the norm, it will be included in the town’s service review in the fall to find a better way to deal with the growing number of FOI requests.
Corporate administrator and deputy CAO Heather Svensen said she’s never seen it as high in the 17 years she’s been with the town.
“It has been astronomical, is the word I would use,” said Svensen who pointed out staff handles not only requests but also the appeals process. She added that it takes 30 working days to process each FOI.
“There’s been a lot of appeals to the ombudsperson that we then have to go through more documents to give them a response for them to make a ruling on any kind of appeal,” Svensen said. “So we’re talking thousands and thousands of pages of FOIs in the last 18 months. So I definitely don’t want to underestimate that it has been an issue for sure with us juggling, shifting our priorities of our work because we have a deadline on those.”
Mayor Brian Wiese said he can’t help but feel that some of the requests may be “somewhat dubious.”
Coun. Scott Harrison said the situation is damaging the operation of the town as the requests have taken precedence over staff’s other responsibilities.
“That’s one problem I have,” said Harrison, noting he didn’t think it’s a large number of people, rather a smaller group submitting the requests.
The town is planning to hire a communications specialist and Svensen hopes through that person they may able to educate the public when submitting FOI requests to be more specific and detailed.
Harrison said it would also be ideal to inform the public how much it is costing the town and staff to process the FOIs.
Sailland said they’ve come extremely close to hiring a full-time staff member and he estimated it would have cost the town from $75,000 to $115,000.
Coun. Robert Filmer said the public has every right to request FOIs.
“That’s up to them to see if we’re being truthful or not,” said Filmer. “Members of council over our term have also put in their own FOIs to the town.”
Coun. Teunis Westbroek asked staff whether council, as a result of an FOI, have been found guilty of doing something inappropriate.
Sailland said “no.”