A Freedom of Information request made by the Advocate to see the results of a consultant’s investigation into a council member’s alleged conduct code violation has been repeatedly delayed.
The consultant’s report cost taxpayers $107,000 in 2021 but was never accepted by city council, or made public.
The City of Red Deer initially indicated that the requested information would be provided within 30 days. But now “a third party” has involved the overworked Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
By asking the Office to review the information the city was prepared to release, because of privacy concerns, the delay is estimated to be another 12 to 18-months, or potentially until October 2023.
An independent consultant was hired by the City of Red Deer in 2021 to investigate a complaint made against someone who sat on the last city council (the complaint was made before a municipal election was held last fall).
This council member, who was never publicly identified, was alleged to have broken rules under the city’s Council Code of Conduct Bylaw. No specifics were revealed.
After the independent investigation into the complaint wrapped up, a final report was released to city council in October 2021.
City councillors discussed the report’s contents in a closed-door meeting. Because the majority on council decided not to accept the report’s findings in a vote taken that month, the report was never released to the public — and no action was taken against the person accused of unacceptable conduct.
The total cost of the consultant’s conduct code investigation was revealed to be $107,000 — which raised considerable concern among Red Deer taxpayers.
Since details were to remain confidential under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP), the Advocate launched a request-for-information process in early November.
The Advocate feels it’s in the public interest to reveal the results of an independent report that cost taxpayers $107,000, but which was ultimately rejected by council.
Our request for information was received by the City of Red Deer on Nov. 5.
On Nov. 9, interim city manager Tara Lodewyk replied that information would be provided “as quick as possible. “Although the (provincial) Act allows us a maximum of 30 days to respond, we will endeavour to reply sooner,” she wrote.
The city later asked that the timeline be extended 30 days into January. Then another extension was needed beyond the end of February.
On March 14, the Advocate received another email from Lodewyk stating that the city has decided to give the Advocate access to the requested records — although they would be redacted to omit any information harmful to the business interest of the third party or that would be an unreasonable invasion of privacy.
However, Lodewyk said third parties were allowed to review what would be released and then have 20 days to decide whether to have the Information and Privacy Commissioner go over this decision.
On April 4, Lodewyk wrote that the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner was asked by the third parties to review the information that could potentially be released.
That Office informed the city that 12 to 18 months was needed to review the file, due to a growing caseload for its existing staff.
According to Lodewyk, “We are unable to disclose any information to you while the file is under review.”
The Information and Privacy Commissioner raised the issue of “challenging timelines” last year, saying 60 percent of files could be resolved by the office in 180 days in 2012. By comparison, in 2020-21, only five per cent of files could be closed in 180s days.
The Advocate hoped to appeal this delay on the basis that 12 to 18 months is unreasonably long for a records review, but was told that only the commissioner’s decisions can be appealed.
This independent investigation in a councillor’s code of conduct was based on the second complaint made in 2021. The Advocate’s FOIP request is not connected to the first conduct code complaint, made against Councillor Buck Buchanan, which was dealt with in a public manner.