Two regional districts in Thompson-Okanagan charge additional fees for public information | infonews


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16 July 2022 – 12:00

Most Thompson-Okanagan governments don’t charge for public information, but that hasn’t deterred the Thompson Nicola and Central Okanagan Regional Districts.

Thompson Nicola staff justified the decision by saying the fee recovers some administrative costs, according to administrative manager Scott Hildebrand.

Both regional districts charge a $10 application fee for freedom of information requests, recently authorized by the province under the Privacy Act. This is in addition to any processing fees that may be charged for research work on the requested records.

Hildebrand said the Thompson Nicola added the fees in November 2021 without an announcement and without a council vote, as they are legislated in the province.

The regional district came under scrutiny last year after a series of articles published by Kamloops This Week showed lavish spending for years in the Thompson Nicola Regional District. Much of it was run by his former top employee, Sukh Gill.

READ MORE: ‘Inappropriate spending culture’ found in TNRD audit

After a months-long forensic audit revealed a “culture of inappropriate spending,” the regional district began approving dozens of new policies to make it more accountable and transparent.

“Over the past two years, the (Thompson Nicola Regional District) has never been more transparent and accountable,” Hildebrand said. “For me, it’s a bit unique. I don’t agree that there’s a story behind it.”

Thompson Nicola manager Mel Rothenburger tried to overturn the staff decision and get rid of the $10 application fee at a July 14 board meeting.

“In the interest of our commitment to transparency and easy access to information, we should not apply these fees,” he said. “The information about our decisions belongs to the taxpayer, it doesn’t belong to us. Our job is not to discourage people from getting information, even if it’s only $10. No matter how much it is, it is the principle of the free flow of information and transparency.”

Company manager Deanna Campbell explained the time costs associated with access to information requests, adding that some are very large and complex, so staff spend time refining requests. Some information requested through a Freedom of Information application may already be publicly available.

Directors Steven Rice, Jan Polderman, Linda Brown and Robin Smith have all expressed support for charging fees to weed out “frivolous” and “harmful” requests.

Hildebrand told that the fees are not intended to “create a barrier” to accessing information held by the public. “Some of the requests we get are ridiculous,” he later added.

“It’s not about frivolous FAITH, it’s not about a lot of FAITH, it’s not about anything but transparency. What touched me is that we talk $10, which everyone recognized isn’t a lot of money,” director Dale Bass said. “It’s…about the people, and we’ve long forgotten about them.”

Only five voted to stop charging the $10 fee, so the regional district will continue.

Other towns and regional districts in Thompson-Okanagan do not have such an application fee.

The cities of Kelowna and Penticton opted out, saying it would be a barrier for citizens who want to obtain publicly held records through freedom of information requests.

“We have considered the cost of administering such fees, the impact on applicants and the general position that fees should not be a barrier to making an access to information request and have decided not to bring it in,” Kelowna City Clerk Stephen Fleming said in an email. answer.

Shane Mills of the City of Penticton responded with similar reasoning.

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“This decision was based on concerns that fees could prevent citizens from requesting information held by the city,” he said in an email.

Others who don’t charge the fee didn’t offer the same reasoning for opting out of the fee, but Stephanie Nichols, applications manager at the City of Kamloops, said the cost of processing the fee would have outweighed the benefit. .

Christy Poirier, communications manager for the City of Vernon, did not respond to questions from about whether the city chose to charge the fee and why or why not. She did, however, provide links to the City’s website, which do not mention the $10 application fee.

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The South Okanagan Regional District did not respond, nor does its website list an application fee.

Neither the City of West Kelowna nor the Regional District of North Okanagan charges the application fee.

All access to information requests could be costly to the requester, depending on the scope of the request. However, local and regional government staff will often consult with a candidate to narrow down a search and reduce costs.

According to the BC government website, there is no processing fee for the first three hours spent locating a record or time spent removing information that a government believes it will not release. not.

If a public body quotes a fee for finding the records, it can be waived if there is a “good cause to excuse the payment”. An applicant may claim that they cannot afford the costs or that it is in the public interest to be released.

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