City of Lacombe is reviewing how it handles and charges for freedom of information requests following a review by the office of privacy commissioner related to a local taxpayer group’s queries.
The Lacombe Taxpayers Association had asked the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner to review a decision by the city to not waive fees for its requests for information around servicing costs for a proposed commercial development, known as Wolf Creek Crossing, and the city’s dealings with a local newspaper and its editor.
A review of the length of time taken by the city to respond to the taxpayer information requests was also requested. In its response, the privacy commissioner found that city chief administrative officer Norma MacQuarrie properly exercised her discretion to refuse to waive the freedom of information fees, noting the records “did not appear to be compellingly in the ‘public interest.’ ”
Likewise, the city provided the appropriate information as allowed under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act, says the letter from senior information and privacy manager Ryan Komarnicki.
However, the city took too long to respond and charged too much, says the letter.
The initial request was made in September 2013 and the city requested further clarifications of information needed over the next few months. In June, 475 pages of information were provided to the association at a cost of $4,058.98.
Using its fee schedules, the privacy office said the cost should have been $180.26. A city estimate that 106 hours of staff time costing $2,862 was too high. A computer programming rate of $1,199 was also out of line because the wrong fee level was used. A $216 legal fee was also disallowed and photocopying costs significantly reduced.
The commissioner’s office also found that the city did not meet legislated time limits or properly extend time limit extensions.
MacQuarrie said the city plans to discuss the issues raised in the letter, with the privacy commissioner’s office.
The $4,058 bill reflects the real costs the city incurred in responding to the information requests, she said.
“Whether or not they are permitted to be charged back under the FOIP legislation, the city is now in discussion with the privacy commissioner’s office on that.”
MacQuarrie points out the letter “demonstrates that the city acted as we should have in how the request was managed.”
Blaine Dushanek, of the Lacombe Taxpayers Association, does not agree with the privacy commissioner’s take on the “public interest” involved in their freedom of information request.
However, he was pleased to see the municipalities obligations laid out clearly and how the city should charge for information.
“I think it should set a precedent, for sure.”
The taxpayers association can request a formal inquiry, but Dushanek said that was unlikely.