FOI reveals Vision Vancouver doesn't like FOI all that much

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

53 comments

booklocks.jpg
Would new rules discourage people from filing an FOI request at City Hall?

Over the last 2 1/2 years, CityCaucus.com has filed a series of freedom of information requests with the City of Vancouver. It's not a preferred method of gathering information, however, we've done so when the information we're seeking is not readily available through other channels. The process can be cumbersome and quite lengthy with some requests taking up to six months to generate a response. Often times the letter we get back simply states "we can't provide you with the information you are looking for."

Apparently all these FOIs (from bloggers and media alike) have really irked Vancouver's city manager Penny Ballem. She sent off a snarky letter to BC's Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) whereby she outlines council's serious concerns regarding current FOI practices.

Ironically, it actually took an FOI request by the Vancouver Sun's Chad Skelton to find out what Ballem told the FOI Commissioner. The city manager's submission was part of a broader review the OIPC was conducting regarding the practice of public bodies releasing FOI'd material to all media at the same time.

The organization at the centre of the Commissioner's review was BC Ferries. According to Skelton, the Commissioner's ruling states "that while simultaneous disclosure is not illegal, it undermines the spirit of the Act." I couldn't agree more with that viewpoint.

In the past, if you filed an FOI request with a public body, it was only sent to the originator. It was up to them whether they chose to release that information publicly. As you can well appreciate, this only stands to reason given the fact that many news outlets and bloggers shell out tens of thousands of dollars per year to process these requests.

I have no doubt that implementing a policy at Vancouver City Hall of releasing FOI documents to all media at the same time will result in fewer FOI requests. After all, why would the media spend their precious time and money submitting FOI requests if the information is handed to their competitor at the same time they receive it?

Public bodies such as Vancouver's Fire and Police Departments are increasingly using this tactic to help curtail the number of requests they receive each year. However, if you ask them, they'll tell you it's about making the public disclosure of documents more fair. Yeah right.

In her letter to the Commissioner dated March 11, 2011, Ballem outlines in no uncertain terms the concerns of the current Vision Vancouver administration:

The focus should be on ensuring the public's ability to access information for themselves rather than the more narrow mandate of ensuring exclusive access for groups such as media organizations, those with political interests or those with a specific vested interest in a topic.

It warms my heart to know that Mayor Gregor & Vision are so concerned about openness and transparency that they're fighting back against the big bad media and bloggers. Ballem goes on to state:

We are of the view that this argument is advanced by media employees (reporters, editorial assistants and other staff) and bloggers whose primary method of generating content is to file [FOI] requests. The practice sees a for profit enterprise making use of limited and costly public resources for its exclusive gain. At its most crass, they use the [Freedom of Information Act] to generate content which they have no interest in the nature or subject matter that the request generates. The purpose is simply to generate information that can then be processed into media content.

I have no doubt that Mayor Gregor signed off on Ballem's letter before it was forwarded to the Commissioner. Therefore, is there any wonder why Vancouver has earned the reputation as one of Canada's most secretive governments?

Here are 25 reasons why Mayor Gregor wants to change the rules when it comes to Freedom of Information requests. What follows are a few of the stories we've reported on which resulted from an FOI submission to Vancouver City Hall. Enjoy the read!

FOI reveals inaugural party budget set at $92K

FOI reveals city staff busy taking pretty pictures while Snowmageddon raged

FOI shows 132 more staff join the $100,000 club

FOI shows Robertson spent time "bumping" into media

FOI reveals how popular 311 has become

Ballem to City staff: use FOI if you want to know

FOI says Vision "activism" didn't extend to property fund

FOI reveals over 345 Vancouver police staff now in $100K+ club

FOI reveals Robertson and Ballem co-authored Olympic Village "storyline"

FOI reveals Gregor Robertson recognizes NPA's achievements in tackling homelessness

FOI reveals City of Vancouver still purchasing bottled water

FOI reveals German artist paid $40,000 for "art" light show

Penny Ballem's deleted emails mysteriously re-appear

$570K severance 'the right amount' says Mayor Meggs

Emails mysteriously vanish from City Manager's outbox

Mayor Gregor Robertson's shaky record on the gang wars

Vancouver mayor one busy boy during spring break

GCATastrohe

Vancouver House guest list: You decide.

Robertson asks political staff to get Iggy his "share of gang war press"

Letter reveals Ballem deleted "transitory" emails

City staff survey produces $92,000 bill

Vancouver Mayor benefits from $1000 per day no-bid contract

Vision Vancouver insiders fill "hidden" Olympic pavilion guest lists

"Carbon" Cadman spends over $110K as municipal foreign affairs minister

Plus here is one bonus story that we truly did stumble upon when we placed an FOI request. It's about Robertson's press secretary Kevin "Vancouver Kid" Quinlan who said in an email that CBC Early Edition's Rick Cluff made for an "easy" interview. Ouch!

Mayor's staff claim CBC host is "easy" interview

- Post by Daniel. Follow us on Twitter @CityCaucus 

53 Comments

Ballem's a walking talking content generator. No wonder she's so jealous of FOI requests. She's basically saying that because media is not government controlled, it has no right to government information. Wowza, mamasita, you are conjuring some dark spirits.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cIfD3hqoJs

Gerry,
Excellent clip, I'd say you nailed it old buddy...

The looks on their faces were priceless. I especially loved the smug look..

I am always intrigued with how people's body language "speaks" when hit with truth, body language never lies.. that should wipe the smug look off that unelected woman's face...

as for my interests being represented by my Mayor.. I have serious doubts...

Thanks again Gerry well done...

The one that got me was the woman who looked like she was writing a letter to someone (while the speaker was asking a valid question)
As someone who has had to go to too many meetings in the last few years I can honestly say that the lack of respect shown to speakers seems to be the norm these days.
Sometimes speakers do take too long, veer off the point, etc BUT if you are making policies that affect us all it's part of your job to listen to peoples concerns!

Interesting that the microphone, had to be passed thru 3 people, before anyone could stop Gerry from telling it like it is...

I guess he had them speechless. You are a force to be reckoned with Gerry ;-)

Kudos to you and Chad and other media for keeping Robertson and his crew accountable. Clearly they don't want anyone looking under the sheets to see what's going on over there.

That list of stories you provided is enough to justify why Robertson shouldn't be allowed to tighten up freedom of information laws.

Jeez, I think this horse is beat. Let's talk about something real.

Boohoo - nobody forced you to comment. There are lots of blogs out there that talk about things that interest you - Google is an amazing tool.

Boohoo
this horse is not beat until we get and answer...

Off topic sort of..

This just caught my eye in the twitter feed sidebar...

"Can anyone tell me when we celebrate "Walk to Work Week"? Would like to mark the calendar in advance."

Love this comment, yesterday morning walking past City Hall a tent was set up with juice and bannana's granola bars etc.. breakfast.

The gentleman manning the booth said he wasn't with a biking group, but in fact he worked for the city..

I chatted for awhile, was never offered any breaky, then a cyclist pulled up and got the works... so my question. Who paid for the treats, City Hall... our taxes ????

I was just a lowly pedestrian so even though I was using a healthy green form of travel to my destination, and the Mayor is my Mayor I didn't qualify for a breakfast..even though I think we paid for it.

George,

Be honest here--would you ever get an answer that would satisfy you? Is there really anything they could say or do other than get voted out that would make you change your mind or satisfy you?

Julia,

I don't disagree with the content of these posts--this group of clowns are just that. But so are all the others. So let's talk about urban issues. There was a meeting on the Broadway Corridor last night--did anyone else attend?

How about this article--comment?

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/home-and-garden/real-estate/real-estate-development/vancouvers-development-is-relentlessly-residential/article2037695/page1/

Sorry, I meant to say that the tent was for the "Bike to work week"...

Boohoo
you don't give answers you deflect.. I would like to hear something worthwhile from you once in awhile.

George, if I'm not mistaken, the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition receives funds from the "Solomon" gang; hence you will always see them at City of Van events. Pedestrians? Who knows, eh?

Hey George was that happy planet juice,if it was Id say we got ourselves a real conflict of interest.

Actually boohoo
what would make me happy is for Vision to come clean about the funding from Tides and to be more forthcoming with Freedom of Information..Vivian makes a very compelling argument, and Tides lawyers have yet to shut her down.... why is that do you think?

Could there be truth there that no one wants to see the light of day...

Like the free breakfast for cyclists, will the Mayor's office please advise who paid for those goodies...that were only for cyclists and not pedestrians?

That answer would make me happy, knowing how the city is spending funds..and you are right I would prefer Vision was not in office, but if you paid attention to my posts you would know I'm not on the NPA bandwagon either...

The difference between us boohoo, is I have no partisan position....I believe from your posts you do.

I try to go by what is fair for all, not just a few..

LOL gman... no I checked for that, it was the cheap stuff, I'll give them that.

Betty
I felt like the kid the doesn't get invited to a classmates birthday celebration... while others that were invited, brag about it and rub it in your face..

George - don't feel bad - I would imagine they had to draw the line somewhere, otherwise they'd have every street person from miles around dropping in for breakkie - not that you're one!!

I just don't care for the cozy relationship between the City and VACC.

George,

I am partisan to a partyless system. I don't know how many times I need to say that.

I'm quite sure the goodies were paid for by the City. Big deal. The City pays for all sorts of things I don't agree with. You whine about a few hundred dollars for granola bars during bike to work week but a few million for say left turn lanes on Knight gets a resounding meh. Perspective please!

I have no idea why lawyers have or have not talked to her, I suspect there's a lot about all of this we don't know and so I prefer to stay out of the conspiracy game.

George I feel the same as you.I see this as an abuse of our not for profit tax system that was put in place to help needy people,if they tried to pull this in hometown chitcago they would call it money laundering.

Boo they have sent her threatening letters but be sure they wont want to air their dirty laundry in a court of law.I would suggest you go to her site and actually read it,this is just the tip of the iceberg.

boohoo..
actually I did raise concerns about the turn lanes, you weren't paying attention.... I do pay attention.
It isn't about the granola bars boo... who paid the city workers wages...

Now boohoo if you don't like our conversations regarding issues why don't you go elsewhere and find someone that wants to debate you..

@Betty..
would it be ok if that homeless person was riding a bike...

I don't care that I wasn't offered a bribe, I just observed a point. As for drawing a line....I agree that it isn't right that special interest groups get special treatment...

the homeless remark... a little tacky. IMO

gman... or Payola..

@Betty:

Daniel wrote an article on the VACC and where they receive their funding. The date was August 12, 2010. This is from that article:

One of the most effective and visible lobby groups (outside the development industry) has to be the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition (VACC). They are very active within the City’s powerful Bicycle Advisory Committee and have been making their presence felt for years. According to their 2009 financial statements, their successful lobbying efforts are partially funded by:

Fed/Prov/Municipal Taxpayers: $159,764.02 (Delta, New Westminster, Surrey, Pitt Meadows, District of North Van, Metro Vancouver, Maple Ridge, Vancouver Coastal Health, BC Hydro and the City of Vancouver are all listed as financial contributors)
Translink: $165,430
Private Funding/Donations: $88,717.15

Some of the BC based companies supporting the VACC are Happy Planet Foods Ltd. and Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC). Happy Planet is Mayor Gregor Robertson's juice company (both Joel Solomon and Tide Canada Director Alan Broadbent are corporate directors of the juice company), while MEC just happens to sell a heckuva lot of bike gear, clothing and accessories along with other outdoor equipment. According to VACC’s website, 71% of their administration costs go to hire staff to lobby and conduct other programming throughout Metro Vancouver. In 2009, the VACC spent $343,501.17 to cover staff expenses.

@Betty:

Daniel wrote an article which covered off some of the funding that the VACC recives.

Archive back to August 12, 2010 on this site.

... According to their 2009 financial statements, their successful lobbying efforts are partially funded by:

Fed/Prov/Municipal Taxpayers: $159,764.02 (Delta, New Westminster, Surrey, Pitt Meadows, District of North Van, Metro Vancouver, Maple Ridge, Vancouver Coastal Health, BC Hydro and the City of Vancouver are all listed as financial contributors)
Translink: $165,430
Private Funding/Donations: $88,717.15

Tide is mentioned as Solomon sits on the board of Happy Planet, which is also a donor.

The Thought of The Day

'I tell you what the problem is. 'FOI' is too close an abbreviation to 'FU'. It's sometimes taken out of context. They have to take it by the city lawyers office first...for laughs and legalese, than by the City Manager's office...for cunnilingus brevity, than by the printing office, to lookout for the best shade of black permanent marker. Only then...'

Six months ago, I've requested through an FU, for the Vision's List of Achievements. It came the other day by Courier Chicken.
The list was the size of a chewing gum wrapper, and it looked more like an upside Product Barcode, if you catch my drift.

I went to my friendly corner store and asked my grocer to scan it for me. It read:

'You are a such an insistent little cocky bastard!'

I am. Guilty!
That's not the last they will be hearing from me...I'll come back as Gaultier Malde, with my greetings, as always.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFZuhirE9vo

I can't wait to see what the next one will say.

PS.
To all the G's...George, Gerry, gman...do you feel Vision's pain? Me too! I say it's about time to tranquilize them.

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

The Thought of The Day

'I tell you what the problem is. 'FOI' is too close an abbreviation to 'FU'. It's sometimes taken out of context. They have to take it by the city lawyers office first...for laughs and legalese, than by the City Manager's office...for cunnilingus brevity, than by the printing office, to lookout for the best shade of black permanent marker. Only then...'

Six months ago, I've requested through an FU, for the Vision's List of Achievements. It came the other day by Courier Chicken.
The list was the size of a chewing gum wrapper, and it looked more like an upside Product Barcode, if you catch my drift.

I went to my friendly corner store and asked my grocer to scan it for me. It read:

'You are a such an insistent little cocky bastard!'

I am. Guilty!
That's not the last they will be hearing from me...I'll come back as Gaultier Malde, with my greetings, as always.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFZuhirE9vo

I can't wait to see what the next one will say.

PS.
To all the G's...George, Gerry, gman...do you feel Vision's pain? Me too! I say it's about time to tranquilize them.

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

Off topic: I noticed this tweet in the sidebar - NPA announces it will vote against @mayorgregor's latest green scheme providing loans to home owners wanting to buy new furnaces.
***

As a taxpyer, I am happy about this. Why is the city considering underwriting $500K worth of loans to individuals.

If the borrower defaults/skips on the loan for any reason, the taxpayer loses. It makes no sense.

Daniel,
Third time is the charm. That's how I'd put it. It would be the third time here when my comment goes down the chute to the approval gallows...that must be a very dark place, a place from where no comment have come back before...without Administrator's help. As I am writing most of my words in this little rectangle shaped window, and with no edit button I might add, my comment could be as good as lost, and I really don't want to go back down the memory lane to retrieve bits and pieces. What I write, when I write is the original,you can 'smell the paint drying', after I sign it I look at it for the last time, kiss it good bye and hope it will get into a nice home. :-)
GR

Watching the City Council meeting - listening to Louie druther on. He attacks Anton's use ownership of a Prius, but didn't Vision promote charging stations in new buildings and gast stations? Aren't their charging stations at the Oly Village.

The Prius is just as green as a new Prius.

I can't believe Kerry Jang, who makes over $200K/year, states he needs a government loan to fix his furnace. That, or his poor kids will look like Micheline Men, from bundling up in sweaters.

Good for Suzanne Anton to call them out and not back down.

That is my rant....for now!

Boohoo, if I had known about that meeting I'd have been there. Who sponsored it and who spoke? And if any more are scheduled can you please let us know here? Thanks.

Gerry,

It was put on by SFU. Here's the blurb:

--Broadway, extending across almost the entire city, is not only an important street for walking, living, shopping and work but is also one of Vancouver's busiest transit corridors. How can we make it better?

Allan Jacobs, former Director of City Planning for San Francisco and author of Great Streets, and Elizabeth Macdonald, Professor of Urban Design at the University of California, Berkeley, will speak to best practices in street design and provide advice on the design of Broadway and how it could be a 'Really Good' Street, if not a 'Great Street.'--

I will certainly let people know of future talks.

They did this (cheap) trick at Hornby and Hastings a few weeks ago. Eby tweeted it. Guess it was done in an attempt to amp their numbers in the bike lanes.

Just keepin' the bike base happy---on our dime???

More misinformation by CityCaucus. If you would have bothered reading the comments, you would know that the government funding is for program work like cycling safety courses and Bike to Work Week. Bicycle advocacy is a volunteer effort in Vancouver. And actually, even programs like Bike to Work Week involve a lot of volunteer effort.

Next time, please avoid making unfounded accusations.

Lastly, it is really tiresome that the vocal anti-bike minority are always turning every topic into an anti-bike discussion. Give it a rest already.

I'm watching my neighbours (who have lived here for many.many years) fix their furnaces without any help from government.

They are deferring taxes,etc because they are in their 80's and have limited incomes.
They would like to live in their homes for as long as possible.
After all, don't governments say it's better to keep people in their own homes?

The 'green' scam is a completely different thing.

Nobody should be subsidizing people who can afford to do these things on their own.

Richard:

I am starting at the 2009 Financial Statement for VACC.

So if the info that CityCaucus reported is incorrect, I suggest you take it up with the VACC accountants or whoever prepares the Annual Report.

From that report - page 10:

VACC INCOME & EXPENSE STATEMENT
January 1 to December 31 2009

REVENUES:
Fed/Prov/Municipal Gov’t Grants 159,764.02
Regional Government (Translink) 165,430.00
Private Funding/Donations 88,717.15
Ads/Courses/Rides/Fee for Service 46,710.32
Membership Revenues 23,497.00
Merchandise/T-Shirt Sales 2,147.00
Interest/Expenses Recovered/Misc 264.42
Total Revenues $ 486,529.91

As for giving it a 'rest'....one of the commentors asked a question, I responded, that is how it works.

Richard:

That 'misinformation' is taken directly from the 2009 Financial Statement, located on page 10 of the Annual Report and as published out by the VACC.

So if the information is wrong, I suggest you speak with whomever works as the VCAA accountant or looks afterthe balance sheet.

As for 'give it a rest' - I was responding to a question by another commentor. Tis how it works.

@chris;

I plan on living in my (now paid off) place until they carry my cold body out! LOL!

With that said, I understand this program, this loan is paid back through your property taxes - attached to them.

I don't know if older people/seniors would be eligible, epecially if they are deferring their taxes. (That was not addressed)

My concern is persons who may default on the loan, go bankrupt - where does the city stand in the creditors list. There is a risk of loss of $$ and after what has taken place at the Oly Village, I am shy to have the city become a lender of anymore taxpayer dollars.

As well, there is a program already offered through the Province.

I see this story is now playing out on France's site.

My problem with the program is that it is going to be run by the City.

I really trust them to run it well.(Not)

I've been watching them deal with a broken water main (I think) on my street for the last 2 weeks.

A lot of people show up,investigate, and fill out forms.

The water is still running.

Sounds like we need a local wikileaks! But I think the real issue is that in the 21st C the default should be that people make information public. Does the city really have any informaiton that needs to be private? Same goes for candidates. What are the personal policies of people running for office? It would be great to have transparent information from all the NPA candidates. Lead by example. And people could use their own names on blog comments, that would be a good start!

Steven
There is no need for anyone that has any personal security concerns to use their own names.

If there is a case of defamation hire a lawyer, and have a court document release our information from the IP address registered with the blog owner.

Politicians are a different matter... we pay them, they work for us... so as their employers we have every right to question their actions.... after all they are spending our money....

We on the other hand, are not paid by taxpayers, nor are we in office doing a paid job.... we have no need to use anything other than monikers...

Funny only folks closely connected with Vision want names.... ummmm preparing a hit list are ya??

I'd be curious to know if media had as many FOI issues with previous administrations as they seem to have with this one.

Good question Max... but then again was there AS MUCH SECRECY... from what I read from Frances Bula's site there was always someone at the Hall reporters could call in previous administrations..

It was this administration apparently, that has made it difficult and has created an impossible situation for getting information to report about.

Someone said on another thread said that if Vision wants to be that private reporters should remember that next time Vision comes crawling for photo op's and free publicity..

Max, learn how to read a financial statement and correctly interpret information. It was pretty obvious that the money was not going to advocacy and the CityCaucus people knew that or should have known that. After all, both Mike and Daniel worked with Mayor Sam and know how governments work.

Anyway, use your common sense. Why would a government give money to groups for advocacy directed at them? They wouldn't. Don't be silly.

Richard:

According to the financial statement,
$343,501.17 was spent on VCAA staffing - or 71% of the revenue collected, 23% on programming expenses.
Staffing takes up the greates portion of the monies 'donated' or received. (which includes the monies from Translink and the government - both taxpayer funded)

In the annual report, it goes on to state there were 80 advocacy meetings in 2009/2010. I would imagine any of the persons listed as staff might be in attendance at these meetings and as well, write about them.

The report itself has a sub heading on Advocacy. Regardless, if this report was paid for through contributions/donations etc. made to the association, then guess what - the monies provided by taxpayers is being used for advocay purposes.

As are all newsletters and day to day operations.

They are part in parcel covered off by the monies from the government/Translink, whatever.

Max
Thank you for taking the time to breakdown that financial sheet for us.

It would appear that VACC is paid for by the taxpayer,and public donations.

You would think the staff/volunteer's for this publicly funded organization would show more respect to the taxpaying public, when speaking on behalf of their agency.

Thanks for this Max...

I pulled up the article from the Province re: retrofits...

So 500 people will get to be involved in this study... I wonder how many close Vision supporters will qualify for this green experiment.. In my opinion this could skew the results and benefit 500 friendlies..

http://www.theprovince.com/news/Editorial+green+scheme+must+stopped/4872304/story.html

Thank you George:

One more note, Chris Keam is listed under the heading of Board of Directors/Contibutors.....:)

Max... Really, is that a paid position?

I know after reading this, I will be attacked... but transparency is important, otherwise it is just bullying plain and simple...

Thanks Max...

Thanks for this George;

As soon as I read the first press release about a week back that the city would be underwriting the loans, it raised my eyebrow.

What this article did not mention is that this move requires the city to change the charter, and this is just the first step in a more lenghty plan.

So if $500K is for the first round of financing, how much for second and third rounds when they look at mulit-family buildings?

It also did not mention the additonal $70K to promote this program.

I would like to know where this money came from as it was previously reported we were running a deficit of $20M or so; taxes went up, parking metres costs have increased in both cost and operating times etc.

A short while ago the Parks Board was looking at shutting down public restrooms at beaches etc, we lost the petting zoo, outdoor pools have been shut down and kids programs closed.

Yet, all of a sudden there is money to underwrite loans.

Is there a hidden slush fund we don't know about????

Hi George;

I don't know if CK is paid or not, it does not openly state.

In all fairness, CK has stated in the past that he is not paid, and that may be the case.

I will take another look around....

That is very true Max he has stated that several times... but in the grand scheme...it doesn't hurt to do all due diligence....I'm not aware of Board members being paid.

That being said there are sweeping changes quietly being done right now to the Society Act... it will give unbelievable powers to Societies, and non profits....something we should keep a very close eye on..not many are aware of it... the poor are because it profoundly effects our security.

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