Sedley council approves new access to information policy

·3 min read

Sedley council has decided that freedom of information won’t be entirely free, though ratepayers will however finally have access to the village’s action log and action plan.

A new Request for Information Policy was approved by council at its Dec. 16 meeting, governing processes and procedures for public access to village documents, even though village administrator Samantha Gillies confirmed afterward that the village hadn’t received any formal access to information requests under provincial legislation over the previous 13 years.

Included in the policy is a $20 fee in order to inspect the action log that is discussed and approved by council in the open portion of its public meetings each month, as Gillies suggested portions of the document would need to be redacted before it could be shared.

So why charge a fee for something that’s never happened, just because it might contain private information?

“Because the law allows us to charge a fee to do that redaction,” Mayor Alan Currie said in an interview after the meeting.

The new policy covers a range of requests for information that could include, but is not limited to: Council meeting minutes, council meeting agendas, village financial documents, accounts payable ledgers, bylaws, management reports, public works reports, policies and other documents.

Access to all such documents will require the completion of a form that Gillies said would be posted to the village’s website, and many will not require a fee to be paid up front, though some will.

The policy also states that each request can only pertain to one subject matter, and additional costs may apply if research or photocopying is required. While provincial legislation is clear that municipalities cannot charge additional fees for up to two hours of research, the village policy will allow ratepayers to be billed at $15 per additional half hour on requests, with any printing or photocopying billed at $0.25 per page. The applicant must pay those additional costs in advance of receiving the documents. The policy also gives the chief administrative officer the authority to charge these fees — including the $20 application fee — at their discretion.

Currie said the policy offers clarity and a documented process, “so we are clear and consistent.”

He added that it was likely most searches for information should be able to be completed within half an hour, though Gillies noted if someone was doing a historical search of a land title going back decades or more than a century, it would take longer.

“What it boils down to is we have a repeatable process,” Currie continued.

Post-meeting, Gillies cited tax certificates, action logs and action plans as among the documents that would require payment of the initial $20 fee, though she later said the action plan specifically would not in fact be subject to a fee.

The Forum has been repeatedly denied access to action logs and action plans for the past four years on the grounds that they were fully confidential, despite both documents being discussed and passed during open sessions of public meetings.

“There are certain things, which if not finalized, fall into an in-camera meeting,” Gillies said. “Those items would be redacted.”

Currie explained that some of the items on the village action log pertain to long-range planning, which “fall out of the normal purview, which means it has to be redacted or not even released at all.”

Action log items are often discussed by item number only during Sedley’s council meetings, with limited discussion beyond a mention that a given item is complete — as with items 431 and 432 at the village’s December meeting — or remain in progress.

Among the action log items from December that did receive a more detailed (and audible) discussion were those pertaining to significant progress on the washroom and change room facility at the Sedley Spray Park, as well as the ongoing removal of scrap tires from the local landfill.

Discussion of action log items 415, 425 and 428 was brief and inaudible.

Keith Borkowsky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Quad Town Forum