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Is the city now asking people to file a Freedom of Information request and pay a fee to get what in the past has been on the city web site and available to anyone ?

By Pepper Parr

August 5th, 2022

BURLINGTON, ON

 

On the matter of it getting harder to get public information from city hall – try this one.

A citizen who is active in civic matters; has delegated at city hall, appeared at Ontario Municipal Hearings and knows his way around public issues.

He wanted to check on something related to a former development application; there was some information related to wind studies and traffic projections that he wanted to review again. That information was online at the old city web site. Is there a reason why the same information wasn’t on the new web site? And if there is a reason, when is the public going to get wind of it?

The city communications people have explained that: “we are still in the process of updating these development webpages and configuring our website. Some site configurations, like the development projects pages, can’t be fully completed in a staging\testing environment so they need to be done on the live site. We are in the process of migrating supporting documents for applications, this is a extensive process as there are almost 60 application pages with at times over 20 large documents for each application.

“If you require specific documents please reach out if you do not yet see on the site.”

What we are getting from the communications people is reasonable – it would have been more professional of them to have alerted both the media and the public on what to expect as the changeover to a new web site design takes place.

What we are getting from the communications people however is not what the public is getting when they call their friends in the planning department.

In the back and forth communications set out below we are not identifying the city planner or the Gazette reader.

We don’t believe the planner is telling people on his own that the public should use FOI’s to get information. Our belief is that the planners have been told to explain this to the public

Our reader put in a call to a planner that he thought he had a decent working relationship with – and finished the call wondering what was going on.

In a nut shell he was told that if he wanted information on a development he could file a Freedom of Information request.

His comments about the state of engagement with city hall were blunt and direct – “It’s a sham.”

From the planner who was explaining how to use the FOI process.
https://www.burlington.ca/en/council-and-city-administration/freedom-of-information.aspx

The Gazette reader learned from the old city web site that: Most requests for information can be resolved without the formal use of the Act. We release certain types of records in response to an informal request as part of our routine disclosure. Fees for requests for information under routine disclosure are based on our Rates and Fees Bylaw (By-law 061-2021).

The Gazette reader wonders if the by-law and ” Fees for request for information under routine disclosure has been changed and adds that “If you follow the suggested process to find readily available planning docs you get the following:

“Information and material that is required to be provided to the City under the Ontario Planning Act is available to the public.
“You can request records with the Committee of Adjustment by phone at 905-335-7777, ext. 7629. You can direct all other planning record requests to 905-335-7777, ext. 7642 or planning@burlington.ca.

“Applicable fees will apply.

The Gazette reader: “I think this may give you everything you may need without me sharing my source. The question that comes to mind immediately is: Who is telling planners to stop being helpful and direct them somewhere else?

“Does this mean that public data is going to require an FOI request – for which I will pay a fee?’

It had a very very short term impact: City Hall didn’t like it and wanted changed made. Council voted unanimously to Receive and File the report

Burlington has been down this path before. In 2010 former Mayor Walter Mulkewich and the late John Boich wrote a report that was called Shape Burlington.

Current Councillor Paul Sharman was on the committee that wrote the report.

A link to the report is set out below.

The issues in 2010 were about city hall not providing the information the public wanted. Nothing changes – there is a mindset within the municipal sector that has them believing that they do not have to respond to what the public wants. And with Council members that do not make it clear to the city manager that staff are in place to serve the public nothing is ever going to change.

Link to the Shape Burlington Report – 2010

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2 comments to Is the city now asking people to file a Freedom of Information request and pay a fee to get what in the past has been on the city web site and available to anyone ?

  • Denise W.

    Perhaps the “new” website will become properly operational, after the election….

  • Penny Hersh

    I remember when residents were asked to participate in the report that came to be known as “Shape Burlington”. I was asked if this was something that I would be interested in getting involved in. My response was “No, thank you”. In my mind it was a make work project that would end up nowhere. Unfortunately, I was correct.

    I was involved in the “Burlington Age Friendly” report. The city was given a $50,000.00 grant to study how Burlington could become age friendly. It was obvious from the start that the “volunteers, residents who were asked to be part of the study were there to check off the box that the public was being engaged, but definitely not listened to.

    After 3 sessions I decided I had better things to do with my time as nothing would change. Again unfortunately, this report went nowhere.

    What ended up being decided was that the City needed private corporations to be involved for financial assistance to implement some programs. It didn’t have to take $50,000.00 and involve staff and an independent company, as well as volunteers to come to this conclusion.

    The interesting thing was that not one representative involved in this study came from the private sector. If you want the private sector to be involved financially or in any other way, they have to be at the table at the start of the discussion, not as an afterthought after recommendations are presented in a report.

    It never ceases to amaze me that residents are surprised when they discover that the city talks the engagement process but never walks the walk.

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