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Town won’t say how much it is paying lawyer to fight newspaper’s FOI appeal

by Chris Daponte

ERIN - It appears the Advertiser will have to file a freedom of information (FOI) request to uncover how much it is costing Erin taxpayers for the town to fight a previous FOI request from the newspaper.

On May 2 the Advertiser received a copy of the town’s submission to the Information and Privacy Commissioner  of Ontario (IPC) regarding an appeal filed by the newspaper earlier this year after the town refused to provide severance figures requested in an FOI request last summer.

The town’s submission, filed by Jody Johnson of the Bay Street law firm Aird and Berlis, argues the record sought by the newspaper - the total amount of severances paid to terminated employees from Jan. 1, 2012 to Aug. 11, 2017 - does not exist.

Further, the town’s lawyer argues, the town is not required to create such a record.

Erin is the only one of eight municipalities in Wellington, including the county, that refused to provide the information sought by the Advertiser. The details were included in several articles in January.

When asked how much the town has paid Aird and Berlis to fight the FOI appeal, Erin communications officer Jessica Spina would not say.

“The document is internal and therefore you will need to file a request through the normal process for access,” Spina wrote in a May 3 email.

The Advertiser mailed an FOI request for the document on May 8.

In the town’s original Nov. 16 response to the FOI request, clerk Dina Lundy, who as of March 8 is “no longer with the town,” said severance information is  exempt from the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act because it deals with labour relations.

The town’s submission to the IPC appears to have abandoned that argument, focusing solely on town assertions that the record requested does not exist.

The lawyer’s submission states the labour relations argument was included in the town’s original FOI refusal “out of an abundance of caution given the nature of the information requested.”

The process

The newspaper’s appeal to the IPC is currently in the “inquiry” stage, after nothing was resolved through mediation.

The inquiry involves the town’s submission outlining its position on the matter, followed by a submission from the newspaper.

The town submitted its response on April 27, one week following the deadline set by the IPC. The Advertiser is to submit a response by May 23.

Once both submissions are received the IPC will rule on the matter.

Possible outcomes include dismissing the Advertiser appeal and upholding the town’s decision or ordering the town to further search for records related to the original request.

Erin Mayor Allan Alls has told the media the town will not provide the severance information unless forced to by the IPC.

May 11, 2018


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