Delta citizen writes MetroVanWatch with concerns about transparency of Delta municipality officials’ communications

Citizens in more than one municipality in Metro Vancouver are voicing dissatisfaction and concern about how decisions are made by their elected officials and municipal governments. This one particularly catches our attention as it is from Delta, the home of Metro Vancouver board chair, Lois Jackson, who is also mayor of Delta. The matters of concern here are something relevant to all municipalities in BC — local governments’ accountability and transparency. Below we provide the (1) letter to MetroVanWatch from Delta citizen Lorelei expressing her concerns, with (2) a letter to her from the Delta municipal clerk, followed by (3) a comment by MetroVanWatch from an expert municipal lawyer, which counters the municipality’s opinion. In some cases we’ve been watching, actions of Metro Vancouver or municipalities appear to be wrong, but the time, cost, and stress for the average citizen working alone to pursue their concerns is high. (See here for how Metro Vancouver played the game to block public access to elected officials during the critical deliberations on the Regional Growth Strategy.) This is where it helps for citizens and groups to talk to each other and learn together. Read on (bolding is our selection)…

Letter to MetroVanWatch from Delta citizen Lorelei (24-Oct-2011):

Delta Municipal Hall recently wrote me a letter to inform me that e-mails from councillor/staffs sent from private computers ( and presumably Blackberries) are outside the “control and custody” of the municipality and therefore not subject to Freedom of Information requests. This is regardless of whether those e-mails contain the business of the municipality or not. For once – I was speechless. To highlight the significance of this, in the over two years of hearings and debates on the Southlands – only a very limited number of e-mails communications are available between council/ staff and Century on one of the most contentious issues in the Lower Mainland. How can that be? Delta’s reason – they do not have “control or custody” of e-mails sent from private computers – regardless of content. Yet another nail in the coffin of a badly executed process (for both sides). Accountability and transparency are vital for the effective and fair operation of any government including municipal government and every Canadian has the right under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) to request and examine documents from public government bodies – including e-mails. Public bodies are expected to ensure that records and e-mails are retained and available for examination and to provide them on request. Naturally, there are exceptions and special circumstances to protect privacy and national interest. Regardless of whom you support, Delta Hall needs to ensure that important e-mail records are under its control, regardless of where they originate. Without access to e-mail records, the public is left to wonder what business (if any) has been conducted between council/staff and Century or others. The public has a right to know. Do some at Delta Hall really feel they can operate outside of the public view? Would any of those e-mails (if they exist) shed light on the rumoured third Tsawwassen exit through Beach Grove. Who’s to know?

Citizen L

Source and referenced documents include

  1. 1. Letter from Angila Bains October 13,2011, Delta Municipal Freedom of Information representative
  2. Freedom of Information Request May 12, 2011
  3. Letter of Request for Additional Time (Delta Municipality)
  4. Delivered FOI from Delta October 13, 2011 – 137 total pages, one report (traffic outstanding), 37 pages brochures, 30 pages fence dispute in Boundary Bay
  5. Federal and Provincial Freedom of Information Acts
  6. Treasury Board Guidelines for Document Retention (various)
  7. Request for Official Investigation – BC Freedom of Information Office

*******************

E-mail to Citizen from Municipal Clerk
From Sent: October-13-11 2:38 PM

Thank you for your email dated October 5, 2011 regarding your FOI Request. Please note that the Corporation of Delta responded to you with all records that are in Delta’s custody and control. If individual Councillor’s correspondence with Century Holdings from their personal email addresses, that information/records are not in Delta’s custody or control. Please note that requests received under the Freedom of Information process are for records that are in scope and fall under custody or control of the public body. Pertaining to the details of the development application submitted by Century Holdings that information may be before the date time that you had indicated on your request. I will research that issue and get back to you shortly. There is one report remaining that is still in consultation with the Third Party which we will advise you of shortly. I hope this addresses your concerns. Thank you kindly.

Municipal Clerk, Office of the Municipal Clerk, Corporation of Delta, 4500 Clarence Taylor Crescent, Delta, BC V4K

**********************

Finally, MetroVanWatch obtained a comment from a municipal lawyer indicating that Delta is wrong. But how could citizens pursue this further without great expense?

If the emails have been downloaded and printed they are clearly within the custody and control of the City. If they are on the City Computers in a program such as Outlook or Outlook Express or Thunderbird they are also within their custody and control. If they are in “the cloud” and have not been downloaded [they may still be] within their custody but that might be the only situation where the argument makes any sense at all. Delta is wrong.


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