City of White Rock to tabulate FOI bids

Councillor request to address procedures surrounding 'problems' with FOI requests.

White Rock city hall.

White Rock city hall.

White Rock city staff are compiling a report detailing Freedom of Information requests received by the city, following a council motion last week.

The request was tabled at the May 30 meeting by Coun. Lynne Sinclair, who said the report was a “first step” towards developing a policy on how the city handles FOI submissions.

In addition to the number of requests and estimated time and cost of each, Sinclair’s motion called for a “summary of how many requests were made by different individuals and how many requests were submitted by the same individual.”

Sinclair told Peace Arch News prior to the council meeting that she hopes a staff report can help the city “get a handle on what is happening” with regards to the high volume of FOI requests.

Over the past three years, the number of requests has steadily increased – the city received 102 in 2015, 63 in 2014 and 43 in 2013.

Residents have been critical of the city’s response to FOI requests, telling PAN in March that some inquiries have gone unanswered for more than a year. Some have filed complaints and review requests with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C.

Mayor Wayne Baldwin told PAN at the time that the city’s FOI officer is “overwhelmed” with requests, and that city employees and council members linked to requests are tasked with retrieving relevant correspondence from their own email accounts as part of the response process.

When asked last week if that retrieval process was followed in other municipalities, Sinclair said she did not know, but hoped the staff report would address the procedure.

“We need to get a handle on just how big this problem is, what’s the nature of these requests, and then move on to a policy position,” Sinclair said at council Monday.

Sinclair pointed to the City of New Westminster, which last year established a 27-page FOI guideline document, stating that city’s “default will be to provide information to residents” either directly or via FOI requests.

“The city believes it is in the public interest to provide information, and that access to information furthers democratic discussion and debate,” the New Westminster guideline states.

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