City of Powell River’s committee of the whole has chosen to note and file correspondence from a resident expressing dissatisfaction with her requests for information.
At the committee meeting on Tuesday, July 2, a letter from Pat Martin was received, indicating she has lost faith in the city.
Martin stated that in mid-January she was promised a response to her presentation on the looped road issue, and to date, five months later, she has heard nothing. Then, in early March, she presented to council regarding her comparison of the city's financial statements with Powell River Waterfront Development Corporation's, specific to accounting entries for the PRSC lands.
“I was advised to speak with the city's CFO, who would find answers for me. When I called him, he advised he was busy with the audit until April 12 but would get to it after that,” stated Martin. “On April 4, I emailed him a comparative spreadsheet and a list of questions, and to date, still have not received answers to my questions. I believe my expectations of the city and city council are reasonable - accountability and transparency - and I am disheartened that we appear to be at odds in this regard.”
Mayor Dave Formosa said there are a number of issues from Martin, but he wanted to say he knows for a fact that on one occasion, around the allegations that the city does not balance its books, a meeting was set up with the CFO, and she cancelled that meeting.
In her letter to council, Martin went on to describe another situation, where she states the city was sued in 2013 and the case was settled out of court sometime in 2016.
This legal action involved a property on Marine Avenue known as the old dive shop, said Martin.
“The city came out the loser, and I suspect that this matter cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars,” she stated. “To the best of my knowledge, the city has not informed the public about this legal action, and the exact amount the old dive shop cost the city (and taxpayers), in staff time, legal fees and the settlement amount is unknown, except to a privileged few.”
Based on that, Martin submitted a freedom of information request asking for total legal fees and the settlement amount. Because this issue was resolved several years ago, there is no longer any need for confidentiality, she stated.
“Our city, however, refused to disclose the information I requested, although they did provide the court documentation,” stated Martin.
She has made a request to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC for a formal review.
“I recognize that mistakes were made and I, personally, could accept them if the city was forthcoming,” she stated. “What I take issue with is the secrecy. I would like the city to own its mistakes so that we can move on with improved transparency and accountability. Is that too much to ask?”
In response to Martin’s requests for information regarding the old dive shop, Chris Jackson, the city’s corporate officer and head of Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA) requests, wrote that he was unable to disclose requested records as they relate to the settlement of litigious matters subject to common law settlement privilege. He stated that according to court precedent, this is a class of privilege at common law, intended to encourage the settlement of disputes that have not been abrogated by FOIPPA.
Martin had also requested copies of a list of all accounting entries and their dollar amounts that relate to this particular property matter. Jackson indicated these records will not be disclosed on the basis that legal fee information is subject to solicitor-client privilege and is therefore exempt from disclosure.
Jackson provided several court documents responsive to Martin’s requests and said she could ask the BC information and privacy commissioner to review any material related to the city’s response.