City of Chestermere pushing for changes to FOIP act
Monday, Feb 02, 2015 04:03 pm
The City of Chestermere is hoping to make changes to an act that will allow it to recoup some of the costs associated with expensive requests.
The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) allows any individual to make a request to receive information from a public body which concerns themselves or their address, according to Mayor Patricia Matthews. She said that in 2014, the City was served with two on-going FOIP requests, resulting in what she said is “tens of thousands” of dollars spent on staff, consultants, and legal counsel.
“This is one of the challenges we are facing, as it is impossible to budget for,” Matthews said. “We had 7,050 hours spent on this just last year, which is a massive amount of time and energy.”
Currently under the FOIP Act requests applicants requesting their own personal information are not charged and requests for access to information other than the applicant’s own personal history are charge an initial fee of $25 for a one-time request.
For general access requests, fees in addition to the initial fee may be charged if the cost of processing the request is estimated to exceed $150. When the fees exceed $150 (for a general request) the full amount is charged to the applicant, according to the Act.
Matthews said FOIP requests are made for a number of reasons, but noted that in some cases, the results of these requests end up sitting in boxes at Town Hall. The current act doesn’t require applicants to pick up the collected information, which Matthews said can be “quite frustrating.”
“We’ve never had any negative actions come out of our FOIP requests, so that just means we’ve put a lot of time and effort and taxpayer money into this, and with ongoing requests, it just continues,” she said. “There needs to be some fine-tuning done to this act.”
According to Matthews, the City of Chestermere is working with a number of groups, including the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, to push through some changes to the act that will hopefully allow them to recover some of that expense. She said it’s an important issue that needs to be addressed.
“Taxpayers are picking up the cost for these requests without ever really understanding what their money is going for,” said Matthews.
“The average person like me wants to be able to keep taxes down, so we are hoping that by bringing this to the attention of our residents, it puts some pressure on their elected officials to say it can’t continue.”