SJSE should release total amount of workplace dispute payouts, commissioner says
St. John's Sports and Entertainment should release information in its financial statements about the aggregate amounts paid to settle a number of workplace disputes and how much was paid to settle another legal matter.
That's according to a report released Friday by Newfoundland and Labrador's information and privacy commissioner, Michael Harvey.
"Information about the expenditure of the public's money is a key element of transparency and accountability," Michael Harvey wrote in his report.
"The fastest way to undermine support of public bodies is to provide these bodies with the means to not be accountable for the expenses they incur."
SaltWire Network had asked the city for the financial statements of SJSE, but the 2021 report contained redactions. SaltWire — which publishes the St. John's Telegram and other newspapers in Atlantic Canada — appealed that decision to the transparency watchdog.
In his report, Harvey noted that information redacted in the 2021 financial statements related to those settlements.
The city made an array of arguments contending that the numbers should remain under wraps — everything from litigation privilege to settlement privilege to financial and economic harm.
"According to the city, there are still claims outstanding," Harvey's report noted.
"Therefore, the city submits that the disclosure of the aggregate settlement amount would prejudice its financial interest with respect to future claimants and should be withheld."
The commissioner rejected those submissions.
Last year, CBC News made a similar access-to-information request, related to the values of individual settlements to St. John's Sports and Entertainment employees who departed the organization.
The commissioner sided with the city in that case.
But in the current report, Harvey noted that this matter is different, because it involves aggregate payout amounts.
A year ago, CBC News reported that a half-dozen senior staffers had recently parted ways with SJSE, the city-run corporation that operates the Mary Brown's Centre.
The organization had been embroiled in a controversy over conflicts with its main tenant, including allegations of "disrespectful workplace conduct" toward SJSE staff.
When the commissioner agreed with SJSE withholding the information last year, the city issued a statement saying, "We respect the commissioner's recommendations and will adhere to the same."
On Friday, city officials declined to address the latest decision, instead steering inquiries to SJSE, which did not respond before deadline.
By law, the city has 10 business days to decide whether to appeal the commissioner's decision to Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court.