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For a summary of the Freedom of Information Act that CELOS often uses to get information from a reluctant City public service, see FOIsummary.pdf (Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act)
posted October 03, 2007
1. Background to 2006 rink closure proposal
Content: Please let us examine all city staff correspondence, meeting notes, and other documentation relating to Item 4 of the 2006 Operating Budget Service Level Adjustments (copy attached), including all documentation of how the expenditure reductions in that item were calculated.
[Note: Item 4 is a proposal to Budget Committee in 2006 to close all outdoor artificial ice rinks except Nathan Phillips Square and Mel Lastman Rink, saving operating costs of $569,400 for December 2006 and $1,117,500 for January-February 2007]
Decision of Access to Information office, signed by City Clerk Ulli Watkiss:
"After careful consideration, I am of the view that the records you have requested are raising matters involved with policy development at the City. The City is in the process of taking steps to examine policy issues that are related to the subject of your request. However, policy development and approval must follow specific processes through the appropriate committees and City Council, and policy direction cannot be resolved through the Freedom of Information process." The letter goes on to advise talking to Ann Ulusoy, Director of Management Services, or Brenda Librecz, General Manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation, and adds that the five-dollar fee for freedom of information is being refunded.
"I'm puzzled by your decision to simply refund the CELOS cheque without giving the legal reason for this. The grounds need to be clear for us to consider appeal. This was a budget recommendation that was developed 2 years ago, so it is not current unless it's once again being considered (since it was not approved for 2006). I assume from your letter that this measure is indeed once again being considered, and that during its consideration no public discussion is invited.
That's exactly why it's important to find out what the staff's reasoning was the last time.
In the larger context, it doesn't seem viable that citizens can't find out the nuts and bolts of a municipal matter that was once, and might again be, the subject of a staff policy discussion. If that's the position of Toronto's Access to Information Office, then it's very important to ask the provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner for her interpretation.
I appreciate your invitation for us to consult Ms.Ulusoy and Ms.Librecz about this issue. However, something will have to change before that suggestion will address our specific information concerns.
Please let us know which part of the Act caused you to reject this request."
"The Director, Management Services, Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division (PFR), states that an extensive search will have to be initiated to determine whether there are records responsive to your request. PFR has advised this office that it is expected to take 52 hours (i.e., 1 1/2 weeks) to search....Cost of searching for all responsive records: 52 hours at $30 per hour: $1560.00...Your written acceptance of the fee estimated together with a deposit of $780.00 is requested prior to proceeding with this request."
"...this response seems to share a common thread with other recent responses we’ve had from Corporate Access. Most of the responses seem rather token. Perhaps we are seen as not serious in our inquiries, somehow just wanting to put city staff to a lot of extra work.
However, we are serious, and the stakes are high enough – in terms of what citizens stand to lose – that we need to persist in our efforts. Simply being told by PFR that “there’s no money” to fix what’s broken, or to fully use the public facilities we collectively own, is not an answer we can accept. We need the details, so that we can make arguments at least externally, even if we can’t find the doorway into more direct collaboration.
For that reason I have revised my information request on 2006 Operating Budget Item Four, “close all artificial ice rinks.” The limited information I request does not need 52 hours of hunting by staff. If the specific files I am asking for don’t exist in any readily accessible place, then please let us know that for certain. Hopefully PFR management would then act quickly to ensure that such basic information is retained and accessible from this moment on.
If the information does exist but you decide that it is not available to us, on the grounds that a policy proposal from 2005 (relating to the 2006 budget) properly remains beyond the reach of information requests two years later, then please cite the exemption in the Act. We will then try to get a judgment from the province on whether they agree."
Request for information re: Item Four, 2006 Operating Budget Adjustments (copy attached). Please let me see:
1. Any staff report prepared about this item in preparation for putting it forward at budget committee or elsewhere
2. The record showing how the cost-savings figures connected with this item were calculated: $569,400 for December 2006 and $1,117,500 for January-February 2007
3. Any folder, paper or electronic, containing material relating to staff preparation of this item. (Note: This question is asking the staff responsible for the item’s original presentation, to look in their file cabinet under something like “2006 operating budget – rink closures,” not to hunt around for a week and a half.)
2. Arena retrofit project costs
Date submitted: Sept.27 2007
Content: Please let us examine all correspondence, meeting minutes, and interim or final reports on the arena energy retrofit program/project. Please include current and recent-year comparative utility-use numbers and costs for arenas/rinks. (This follows up on Freedom of Information request #05-1379)
Response arrived Nov.2, 2007
Parks, Forestry and Recreation said they had no minutes or correspondence at all, about this $10.3 million arena/ rinks energy retrofit project, over the three years of the project's run. Facilities and Real Estate Division had three items, two of them simply cover letters for faxed reports.
3. Cost of running outdoor rinks -- data obtained through a Freedom of Information request
Date submitted: Sept.27 2007
Content: Please send us the line-by-line cost to run each of the city's outdoor artificial ice rinks (list attached) in the winter 2005/2006 rink season and the winter 2006/2007 rink season. Please break down the energy costs by the month.
Response arrived: Nov.7 2007
Cover letter (below are all the excerpts containing actual information):
"We asked staff of Parks, Forestry and Recreation (PFR) to conduct a search for records...The search by staff of Management Services, PFR, has found information that responds to your request pertaining to the months of January, February and December in year 2006....PFR staff state that this report is an estimate of these three months....The search by staff of Management Services, PFR, has found no responsive records for the month of December 2005, nor for the months of January 2007 to March 2007. Furthermore....statements of actual outdoor A.I.R. expenditures are not available for each outdoor A.I.R. nor are they recorded by the month for the reasons indicated in this report. Staff also state that there are no line costs kept for outdoor A.I.R.'s...Lastly, PFR staff advise that no additional responsive cost information or records have been found. Access cannot therefore be granted as no such records exist."
Costs of three months of the A.I.R.'s in 2006:
Permanent staff: $940,030 (see note 1)
Local 416 Seasonal ice maintenance staff: $725,848 (see note 2)
Local 79 Seasonal Recreation staff: $456,334 (see note 3)
Total salaries and benefits: $2,122,211
Salary cost per stand-alone A.I.R. for these three months: $50,529
Utilities: $1,099,800 (see note 4)
Total non-salary Expenses: $1,610,623
Estimated utility cost per stand-alone A.I.R. for three months: $26,186
Estimated "other" cost per stand-alone A.I.R. for three months: $12,162
"Gross expenditures" (estimated) for these three months: $3,732,834
Total (gross) expenditures for three months per A.I.R.: $88,877
(1) Includes permanent salaries and benefits for A.I.R. dedicated staff from Parks, PDIM and Community Recreation staff for 3 months. Costs are estimated.
(2) Includes salaries and benefits for 40 Local 416 Parks staff for 3 months. Only 26 of the 40 represent variable costs. Costs are estimated.
(30 Includes salaries and benefits for part-time Recreation staff at 32 stand-alone A.I.R.'s. Costs are estimated.
(4) Includes cost estimates for Hydro, Gas and Water for Double, Major and Minor A.I.R.'s. Water costs are not paid for by PFR.
Statements of actual expenditure by A.I.R. by month are not available through the accounting system due to the following factors:
Maintenance of the A.I.R.'s is done on a floating crew basis without dedicated A.I.R. staff
Cost centres related to A.I.R.'s also include expenses for Parks Operations
The City of Toronto does not use an accrual accounting system, therefore statement of monthly expenses is based on payment timing rather than monthly consumption.
Utility accounts contain multiple meters that include lighting for adjacent parks and facilities.
PFR does not pay for water consumption and therefore it is not tracked in the accounting system.