Openness & Transparency comes with a price tag

Post by Daniel Fontaine in



As part of some research we're doing on a tip we received from Vancouver City Hall, made two separate requests under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Knowing how busy it is at City Hall these days, our requests were quite simple and straight forward.

We asked for a copy of the incoming and outgoing emails for Penny Ballem, City Manager for her first 8 weeks on the job. We also asked to view the cellular phone bills and about 4 weeks worth of emails for Laurie Best, Director of Communications.

Well, today we received our "official" response from this new open and transparent government. It came in the form of a bill for $2,155 to obtain those records.  That's right, over $2K to get photocopies of a few emails and cel phone bills.

After picking myself up off the ground, I immediately called for an emergency meeting of our executive team to see if we could round up the cash. I was told by our Acting CFO that...well...we're broke. No cash in the kitty. No dough in the bank. Nada.
As she so aptly put it..."if you want those damn documents so bad, you're going to have to find the money elsewhere." The CFO was also quick to point out that we had to put our Dubai satellite office on hold due to the recession, so how on earth did we think she could find $2,155 bucks for copies of a few silly emails and a cel bill. However, there remains a glimmer of hope.
The letter we received from the City does state:

"The Act provides that we may excuse you from paying all or part of the fee if you cannot afford to pay or there are other reasons that justify excusing the fee, or if the record relates to a matter of public interest..."

Does having no money in our corporate bank account qualify as being unable to pay?

In the end, our executive team agreed to put our $350 per hour legal team on the case, and they're quite confident we'll have proper grounds for appeal. As for the tip we received, well, we're still working on that one. Stay tuned and wish us luck. 



Of course, you must realize that this "new open and transparent government" has nothing to do with it. They would be required under privacy legislation to review all of these records (and I dare say that 8 weeks of emails is not a small number to review) prior to releasing them.

I hope you get them, and I hope you get the fee waived, but it is starting to become commonplace around here to blame VV for things that they literally have no control over.

Ask your readers if they'll chip in for the cost. Heck, it's worth a shot! Or, get the NPA to buck up. This might be worth the investment. Mind you, who's to say that Dr. Ballem and Laurie Best aren't going through their emails right now to clear them out...

Good luck!

Ofcourse the City is actually being responsible charging you this fee. How many e-mails do you think Penny Bellem sends (and recivies) in 8 weeks? How many hours doe it take IT to cull them en-masse off City servers? Whether the e-mails are printed on reams of paper by a secretary or sent to you electronically, this process has a price and you can pay it. Not my taxes, no thank you. Unless you have a specific ask, this type of needless and meddlesome request takes the limited City resources away from more important tasks at hand.

Check out!

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