City of White Rock legal fees exceed $44,600 for three OIPC adjudications

Recent FOI shows cost of OIPC inquiries

A recently fulfilled freedom-of-information request reveals how much the City of White Rock spent on legal fees – on three separate occasions – to go through the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner adjudication process.

On May 10, 2019, former White Rock resident Ross Buchanan received the results of the FOI request – filed in 2017 – into the city’s legal fees.

The information provided to Buchanan shows that the city spent a total of $44,601.50 on legal fees to deal with three OIPC adjudications.

According to an email exchange between Buchanan and a senior investigator of the OIPC, the city initially withheld the information but then “reconsidered” the decision and released it without an OIPC inquiry.

The FOI request reveals the legal fees paid by the city in connection with a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) application made by White Rock that it not be required to respond to a number of FOI requests made by a city resident.

The OIPC adjudicator found that 14 of 20 of the outstanding requests filed by the resident were systematic or repetitious and responding to them would unreasonably interfere with the city’s operations. The city was authorized by the OIPC to disregard the respondent’s future access requests, in excess of one open access request at a time, for a period of two years.

According to the recently released FOI document, the city paid $11,692 in legal fees through the process, which was complete April 12, 2017.

RELATED: No easy answers: FOI requests ‘overwhelm’ City of White Rock

Buchanan also sought the amount spent by the city in legal fees after a resident requested access to records relating to a statement made by the city’s chief administrative officer about the financial viability of connecting to the Greater Vancouver Regional District water supply.

The OIPC order, dated April 12, 2017, says that the city provided records, but it refused to disclose some information relating to solicitor-client privilege, local public body confidences, harm to financial or economic interests of public body, and harm to third party business interest.

The OIPC adjudicator found that the city was not authorized or required to refuse access to some of the information it withheld, and the city was required to provide the information.

According to Buchanan’s FOI results, the city paid $23,252 in legal fees to deal with the file.

Last, Buchanan asked for the legal fees paid by the city in connection to an applicant’s request for copies of invoices issued to the city for legal services obtained in 2015 and part of 2016. According to the OIPC order, the city provided records to the applicant, “but withheld most of the information on the basis it was protected by solicitor-client privilege.”

The OIPC adjudicator determined that the city was authorized to refuse to disclose some of the information in the invoices, including a description of the legal services provided, however, the adjudicator required the city to release information relating to the total amount of fees charged on each invoice.

According to Buchanan’s FOI request, the city paid $9,657.50 in legal fees in relation to the file.

Last November, the OIPC conducted an audit on the City of White Rock and determined the city “has serious issues” with respect to how freedom-of-information requests were being managed by the city.

In the 23-page report, the OIPC stated that it audited the city due to the “high number” of complaints and requests for review it received over the past five years.

The audit found issues with 65 per cent of the sampled files. Most of the concerns, the report stated, related to a failure to meet legislated timelines and missing documentation.

After the audit was released, the city released a statement taking issue with the report, saying it was “disappointed that the scope of the Audit did not include a review of the specific content of access of information requests or the difficulties faced by White Rock related to vexatious, frivolous, or systematic requests.”

RELATED: City of White Rock blames ‘vexatious’ FOIs, after watchdog expresses ‘serious issues of concern’

Not long after the city’s statement, newly-elected White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker said the city’s statement wasn’t vetted by him, and his council will be reviewing how media releases are done.

The statement was amended shortly after – it was acknowledged the next day – with some of the more contentious words and passages removed.

While Walker told PAN in November that he agreed with some of the points made in the city’s statement, he took issue with the “phraseology” and with comments critical of FOI applicants that “didn’t need to be said at all.”

RELATED: Mayor says city’s statement on ‘vexatious’ FOI requests wasn’t vetted by him

The audit listed a number of recommendations, including that the city fully document all FOI requests from the original request to the closing of the file; forward requests to departments to search for records as soon as possible; and take “immediate steps” to ensure that they respond to all FOI requests within the mandatory time frame.

At the beginning of this year, the city created a page on its website that lists all FOI requests made in 2019. Each request includes information about when it was received, its statutory response date, and the status of the file. The response date, along with the entire response, is posted on the webpage.

RELATED: White Rock FOI requests posted to city’s website

The most recent FOI request the city received, according to the FOI web page, relates to the cost of cleaning the rainbow crosswalk in the Five Corners neighbourhood after it was vandalized with tire marks and paint. The FOI request was received on April 15, and received a response later that day.

The total cost for removing the graffiti was $1,131.91 and the cost for removing the tire marks was $418.01.

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