Last week we reported that an FOI we placed with the City asking for copies of all outgoing email for the City Manager for the first three weeks came up empty handed. We were advised by the City Clerk's Office that Dr. Penny Ballem indicated she didn't send any email from her City account and chose to use a private email system instead. According to her employment contract, Ballem became a City employee on December 12th, 2008.
This follows on the heels of CityCaucus.com asking to view a mere seven days worth of emails from Mayor 'open and transparent' Gregor Robertson, only to be told it would cost us $2680 for the privilege. That's because his Worship told the City Clerk he generated over 10,000 pages worth of email (10,000 pages @ .25 cents per copy + labour = $2680) in a single week.
As you will recall, were also denied access to the taxpayer funded cellular phone records for Laurie Best, Director of Communications.
After an emergency meeting of our executive team at CityCaucus.com Tower, it has been determined that we are going to send our requests for an official review by BC's Privacy Commissioner. The Commissioner has sweeping powers and if he believes it's in the public's best interests, he can order a review into both of our requests.
In an effort to be as 'open and transparent' as possible, we can advise you that our request to Mr. David Loukedelis, BC's Privacy Commissioner will include the following concerns:
- A senior public servant in Vancouver was using her private email to conduct City business. As a result, this email was not covered by the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act and is not accessible by the media or the public.
- A request was made to confirm through computer records in possession of the City that in fact no emails had been sent from the City Manager's email account during the period in question. The City has denied our request to review the computer archive records as they indicate they believe the City Manager did not send any email from her email account.
After discussion with a few legal folks, and a search of previous cases reviewed by the Privacy Commissioner, we're hopeful that we may have a case. The following is an excerpt from complaint number F06-10-MS;
Section 6 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act requires a public body to conduct a search for records that a fair and rational person would expect to be done or consider acceptable. The search must be thorough and comprehensive. Evidence of the search should describe all potential sources of records, identify those searched and identify any sources not searched, with reasons for not doing so.The evidence should also indicate how the searches were done and how much time the public body staff spent searching for records...
A comparison of the records provided indicated that, although two individuals in
particular appeared to have been actively involved in the covenant approval process,
the records that were produced contained no emails from either of them. It became
clear that the records management practices for the department in which the individuals worked had not been consistently followed. In general, emails were printed and filed, but the city reported that compliance was not universal. We concluded that the city should have searched the individual email accounts of the two individuals. As a result, the city undertook a further search and produced emails from one of the two individuals. The second individual no longer had email stored for the time period in question. We found the complaint to be partially substantiated.
Although each case is reviewed separately, we are hopeful that the Commissioner will agree with our request that the City Clerk's office must make at least one attempt to search computer records on their server to determine whether emails were in fact sent out from Ms. Ballem's account during the period in question.
We're hopeful that Mr. Loukedelis will step in and review both of our recent FOI requests in order to ensure the City has done everything possible to live within the spirit and the word of the law. We're not hopeful that this will be settled any time soon, but we're going to stay on the case for as long as it takes.