The City of White Rock will not waive fees associated with a freedom-of-information (FOI) request for city emails relating to a timeline and budget of Memorial Park because the information that would be obtained from the disclosure, the city said, would not result in a public benefit.
Peace Arch News filed an FOI request with the city June 14, asking for “all emails regarding Memorial Park from April 1, 2018 to June 14, 2018.”
After asking for clarification on the request, the city responded Aug. 7, saying that processing the request will take significant time and resources. The city estimated a fee of $710 to fulfill the request, but said the city could waive the fee “if the record relates to a matter of public interest.”
The following day, PAN requested the fee be waived under the “matter of public interest” clause.
The city’s manager of FOI Ken Overton emailed PAN Thursday saying the city would not waive the fee. He wrote that the FOI request is broad enough to encompass records containing more than just information related to the project delays.
“For example, every piece of billing correspondence and invoice would likely be responsive,” he wrote.
Overton told PAN that the disclosure of the emails would not likely result in a “clear answer to your questions.”
According to public city documents, in July 2017 council awarded the contract for Memorial Park upgrades and pier washrooms to Fricia Construction Inc. to the tune of $4,508,490. Before the construction delays, the projected was expected to be complete July 2018, and the total estimated cost of the project was $5,548,490.
However, in Overton’s email to PAN this week, he said he’s confirmed with the city’s finance department that the budget – including utility works, pre-servicing the pier, and associated public artwork – sits at $6,497,000.
“The cost of delays is currently not known,” Overton writes.
(The official launch of the project was stalled in September 2017 when Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell and councillors Joanne and Roxanne Charles presented Mayor Wayne Baldwin with a cease-and-desist letter, calling for consultation on the project, which is on SFN ancestral lands.)
Overton said other factors could influence the final figures, including additional delays, changes and time-saving opportunities.
“If anything, it is probably better to avoid potentially misleading anyone trying to draw conclusions from partial information,” he writes, noting the city would have a better understanding of the cost of delays closer to the project completion.
“While much of what the City does can generally be considered related to the public interest, the interpretation of ‘matter of public interest’ in s. 75(5)(b) of FIPPA is usually interpreted quite restrictively, eg. where the information relates to public health and safety or where disclosure of the information would provide a public benefit.”
He said that in the future, before making FOI requests, it’s best that PAN checks the city’s website or contact the communications department.
The Memorial Park Project web page says the western portion of Memorial Park was completed Aug. 1, and the eastern portion of the park will be open early 2019. However, the same web page says construction of Memorial Park is expected to be completed in the summer of 2018.
City communications manager Farnaz Farrokhi emailed PAN three days before the FOI request was filed, saying that there is “no definite project completion date yet.”
The Memorial Park Project web page does not include information related to the cost of project delays.