White Rock taxpayers must be relieved to know that their civic leaders are growing anxious over the rising costs of freedom-of-information requests.
Last week, council members voiced concern over the hiring of a temporary full-time employee to work on the backlog of such requests, with many at pains to point out that the majority of 135 requests so far this year came from just eight individuals.
“Something like $80,000 to $90,000 (in salary)?” Mayor Wayne Baldwin asked. “That’s very generous. I think the taxpayers should be aware that’s… where their tax dollars are going.”
Indeed, the estimate he put forth is “generous,” perhaps even unintentionally so, considering the employee was hired in late June.
Regardless, the point was made. The system imposed by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act is, in the words of Coun. Lynne Sinclair, “being used by a small group that is involved in a repetitive way.”
While it’s to be commended that elected officials are keeping tabs on the subsequent expenses, perhaps their questions should focus more on the nature of the requests.
A Nov. 7 corporate report lists the “top three topics for FOI requests in 2016”:
• vegetation on the Hump: 21
• May 15 Fire/Emergency Plan: 14
• Water Utility: 13
More than a third have to do with information not made public regarding: the city’s unannounced virtual clearcutting of the Marine Drive hillside; the Five Corners fire that left close to 100 residents homeless, triggered a boil-water advisory (dismissed by the mayor as unnecessary) and required firefighters and water from Surrey; and the purchase a year ago of the water utility for an undisclosed price in an undisclosed contract.
And they wonder why there are questions?
It’s safe to assume that some of the requests are make-work projects by disgruntled critics. However, it’s unclear what council members are suggesting in their criticism of the process, or whether they have solutions.
While leaders are right to tabulate expenses, they should also question why some find it necessary to file these requests.
And with the mayor’s focus on the $80,000-$90,000 cost of a ‘temp’, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a new FOI subject make the “top three” in the next corporate report.