Are citizens being kept in the dark regarding email correspondence at Vancouver City Hall?
As many of our regular readers know, CityCaucus.com has filed a series of Freedom of Information requests to get access to documents from Vancouver Silly Hall over the last few months. One of those requests related to getting access to newly appointed City Manager Penny Ballem's email for her first few weeks on the job.
These were busy days indeed for the new City Manager. Not only was she dealing with crucial details related to the Olympic Village project, she also had the Snowmageddon crisis dumped on her lap. Therefore, when we put in an FOI asking to see all of her outgoing emails for the period from December 12th to December 30th, we had expected it might rival the amount her boss gets in an average week. If you recall, Mayor Robertson allegedly gets about 10,000 pages worth of email per week based on estimates from his office staff.
So you can imagine our surprise when we found out Ballem told the Clerk's office she hadn't sent out a single email from her City account and there was nothing she was able provide to CityCaucus.com. That's right, she said she didn't send out even one email in December. Ballem states the reason she didn't have any records was because she was using a 'private' email system instead.
When I started working at City Hall in the Mayor's Office a few years back, I recall it took the City's IT department about a day or two to get me online. I filled out a bit of paperwork, and voila, my City email account was up and running. Presumably, the same procedure was available when Ballem took on the job as the City's top bureaucrat.
But if she did have an email account provided to her by the City, it begs the question why she was conducting City business on a 'private' email account that is well beyond the reach of people like you and me.
One of the reasons CityCaucus.com put in our FOI request was to determine what type of communication (or lack thereof) went on between the City's top managers during the whole Snowmageddon crisis. If we are to believe the written response from the City regarding our FOI request (and we have no reason not to believe them), then Ballem sent no emails during those critical weeks.
Freedom of Information legislation is one of the few direct tools the public and media have to ensure accountability, openness and transparency of any government. As a result, every effort should be made by public officials (elected or otherwise) to ensure they abide the spirit and word of the law.