The City of White Rock fired back after the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner determined White Rock “has serious issues” with respect to how freedom-of-information requests are being managed by the city.
In the 23-page report, released Thursday, the OIPC states that it audited the city’s handling of FOI requests because of the “high number” of complaints and requests for review received over the past five years.
The OIPC received more than 100 complaints in that time frame, which makes White Rock the second-highest complained about city the commission deals with, the report states.
However, the city took issue with the audit report in a statement issued later that morning, saying it was “disappointed that the scope of the Audit did not include a review of the specific content of access of information requests or the difficulties faced by White Rock related to vexatious, frivolous, or systematic requests.”
The most disconcerting issue uncovered in the audit, the privacy watchdog states, “is the rate at which the City is failing to meet mandatory timelines. I realize that a large number of White Rock’s FOI requests come from recurrent applicants that may make more sophisticated and complex requests, but that does not excuse the City from its duty to respond within legislated timelines.”
The audit found issues in 65 per cent of sampled files. Most of the concerns, the report states, relate to a failure to meet legislated timelines and missing documentation.
“The audit also found discrepancies in White Rock’s response to recurrent applicants. The majority (65%) of the City’s FOI requests stem from recurrent applicants who made five or more requests in either 2016 or 2017. However, White Rock still has a duty to respond to all requests within the legislated timelines.”
Specifically, the audit states, White Rock failed to meet legislated timelines in 46 per cent of sampled files; the city took an average of 38 days to respond to FOI requests overall; the city took an average of 22 days longer to respond to requests by recurrent applicants compared to other applicants; the city did not retain all relevant documentation in 26 per cent of sampled files; the city took an average of 13 business days to forward requests to city departments to begin the search for records.
In the city’s response to the audit, it made note of the recurrent applicants.
“A small number of other individuals have also been making regular and co-ordinated FOI access requests and seem to be taking the matter to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C. regardless of the City’s response. These individuals seem to have more issues with sections of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) rather than the City’s response to their application,” the city response states.
More positively, the report found that the city conducted adequate searches for records; rarely applied fees; “generally” released records when available with little to no severing; and provided appropriate explanations when no responsive records were found and when denying access to records.
From 2016 to 2017, the city received 253 requests for records. Of those, the OIPC received 66 complaints and requests for review. The OIPC investigators resolved 47 per cent of the requests for review, was still investigating 26 per cent at the time of the audit, and sent 26 per cent to inquiry for resolution.
The audit lists several recommendations, including that the city fully document all FOI requests from the original request to closing file; forward requests to departments to search for records as soon as possible; and take “immediate steps” to ensure they respond to all FOI requests within the mandatory time frame.
“With these changes, White Rock applicants may have faith that they will (be) treated fairly and equitably throughout the FOI process,” the report states.
In the city’s response to the audit, it says it plans to implement the recommendations and has already made a number of improvements to its FOI practices since 2016/17.
OIPC commissioner Michael McEvoy concludes the report, writing that the city and its staff co-operated fully with the investigation.
Mayor Darryl Walker could not be reached for comment at Peace Arch News press time Thursday morning.