Info release stirs concern

The release last week of sensitive business information has the mayor of Ponoka worried about the effect on contractors who submit tenders on jobs for the town.

The release last week of sensitive business information has the mayor of Ponoka worried about the effect on contractors who submit tenders on jobs for the town.

On Friday, the Town of Ponoka complied with an order and released details from packages submitted by the successful tenders on upgrades performed to sewer and water systems on a section of 38th Street.

Ponoka County resident Nick Kohlman had asked for details of the winning tenders, submitted by Descon Engineering and Nikiforuk Construction, because he was seeking evidence that ratepayers on the north side of the street have been overcharged for services that will benefit a broader area.

Kohlman, who is friends with one of those homeowners, said that homeowner and her neighbours on the north side of the street were being charged for work that benefits both sides of the street as well as whoever would develop adjacent lots in the future.

While the town always publishes the total amounts of tenders submitted, details of how those prices were reached are not released because they contain sensitive information about the companies submitting those tenders, Mayor Larry Henkelman said.

Alberta’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner originally stated that the details Kohlman was seeking were protected under Section 16 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which addresses company secrets, said Henkelman.

However, Kohlman appealed that decision and, on July 28, adjudicator Teresa Cunningham wrote an order forcing the town to reveal information that had been blacked out in the copies he had previously received.

Brad Watson, chief administrative officer for the town, confirmed that he provided the information to Kohlman on Friday, although the law offers a window of 45 days in which the town could prepare a response.

The decision was left to the CAO with no response considered other than to comply with the order, said Henkelman.

However, the mayor is worried about the precedent it sets for businesses that would like to apply for future contracts.

Typically, municipal governments are obliged to accept the lowest tender, providing the company submitting the tender has a good reputation and that there are no worries about the quality of their work or their ability to complete the job, said Henkelman.

Because of those factors, tender submissions include sensitive information including how the business prices its jobs, he said. Those companies may now be less willing to provide that information because of concerns that it could be made public, he said.

Kohlman said that, because there is no avenue of appeal on taxation rates, he is trying to argue his friend’s case before the assessment review board.

He submitted his concerns to the Regional Assessment Review Board, which sat in Red Deer last week.

Watson said Kohlman’s request for a review came in at the last minute and his case was heard, but it may not even fall within the board’s jurisdiction.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com

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