‘Give us a break’

By Mark Squibb

Holyrood council is appealing to Premier Andrew Furey to help stem the flow of what it deems is a flood of Access to Information requests in recent months.
Mayor Gary Goobie said the Town recognizes the importance of legitimate ATIPPA (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act) requests, but that recently staff have been flooded with them, some 30 all told, most of which were from residents seeking information related to past issues.
“The large number of ATIPPA requests within a short period of time by a small number of individuals are impacting the operations of council and staff and contributing to a workload at a cost to the residents’ tax dollars,” said Goobie, who later requested that residents “not use the ATIPPA process as a process to settle personal disputes with past issues involving past councils, staff, and decisions.”
Goobie made the remarks at last week’s public council meeting. He indicated that many of the ATIPPA requests were seeking information on the implementation of recommendations put forward by consultant Pat Curran in his review of the Town operations last year, dubbed by Goobie as the ‘Curran report.’
That report was presented to council in September of 2023.
“We ask residents to recognize the changes already in place, acknowledge that there has been work done and that more work continues and please be patient as we work together to get it all done,” said Goobie. “We projected a year to complete some of these objectives and we are continuing to work on them.”
Deputy Mayor Michelle Woodford said that over the past few months staff have spent much of their time completing ATIPPA requests, to the detriment of regular Town business.
“It’s been a challenging past few months with the number of ATIPPA requests that we have received,” said Woodford. “We want to be sure to follow the ATIPPA legislation properly, but we want our residents to do that as well, and put in requests that are legitimate requests, so that we can reply to those as necessary.”
Woodford asked for patience as the Town updates information on its website to align with recommendations from Curran’s report.
Councillor Laura Crawley supported the ATTIPA process, but suggested it is being abused in some cases.
“Legitimate requests come in, legitimate questions come in, and we respond to everything that we feel warrants a proper response,” said Laura Crawley, who chairs council’s communications committee. “When people are commenting on things in the past that are over and done (with), we don’t feel that spending time on those requests is probably a legitimate use of our time.”
Crawley echoed Woodford’s plea.
“We requested patience, and a few residents don’t seem to be listening to or honouring our request for this patience,” said Crawley. “When the Curran report came in, we’re not expected to implement all those strategies overnight. It is impossible to implement everything overnight.”
Crawley said she wonders if the people submitting the requests understand the burden they are placing on staff.
“I know we are not the only town that is suffering through this, and I say ‘suffering’ because that is what’s happening, and I’m not sure if that was the actual endgame, but that’s what’s happening,” said Crawley. “We stand behind our staff, we support our staff, and we’re just not going to accept it anymore.”
Councillor Bruce King agreed.
“Everybody has a legal right to ask for information, it’s the law, and they have a right to an answer, but you don’t have a right, in my opinion anyway, to overload the system to the point where nothing gets done, or you’re doing it not to access information, you’re doing it because you’re making people work twice as hard,” he said. “It’s going to be frustrating, and everything else.”
King tempered those comments by acknowledging the Town is responsible for responding to requests when appropriate.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” said King. “It should never be used as a retaliation against a resident, and it should never be used by a resident as a retaliation against council.”
Councillor Sadie King, as is her manner, was blunt in her assessment of the issue.
“Our staff are spending probably 75 percent of their time dealing with issues in the past, and what are we achieving by it?” asked King. “We can’t bring back the past, and we can’t fix the mistakes that were made, and if our staff are going to spend three parts of their time dealing with the past, then we’re not going to have a future here in Holyrood.”
Councillor Steve Windsor said he wouldn’t speak at length as other councillors had already addressed the matter but did express his support for council’s message all the same.
“Every resident has a right to ask questions, 100 percent, but as other councillors have mentioned though, I think that the system has been overwhelmed and has been abused,” said Windsor.

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