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Communications cost thousands

City repeatedly quotes $10,000-plus to obtain communications

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Plenty can be done with $11,000.

That large chunk of change could net a pretty decent used car, could pay for a year’s rent in a decent apartment, and could even get you the largest LED TV on the market. Or, you could use that money to purchase a single email trail from the City of Oshawa.

On Feb. 16, The Oshawa Express received a fee estimate for information requested under the Freedom of Information Act for $11,512.88. The information? A single email trail from 2013 between one member of staff and councillors.

According to the estimate, more than 70 hours of information technology staff time would be required to fulfill the request, along with nearly 10 hours of supplementary staff time.

Included in the work would be 32 hours for an IT vendor to restore tapes at a cost of $5,200.64.

Jason McWilliam, the city’s manager of records and information systems, says the estimate was astronomically high due to the timeframe of the information requested.

Due to the numerous changes in the city’s internal technology infrastructure since 2013, trying to restore the information could actually impact the current system, he says.

“We have the backup tapes from that timeframe, but we don’t have the systems in place to actually restore that stuff and if we were to try and restore that old stuff into our present environment, it’s actually going to impact IT’s ability to deliver the services they’re providing now,” McWilliam tells The Oshawa Express.

“It’s really going to take us a lot of work, and it’s really going to be quite costly.”

Software, servers and programs have all be changed or updated in that time, and for that reason an external vendor would need to be hired to help retrieve the emails. The amount of time required to retrieve the emails would hinder the IT department’s ability to carry out their other day-to-day activities, McWilliams says.

“We’re trying to balance giving you access to that information while also delivering on all the other things that council expects us to do.”

When asked why the information isn’t readily available in the city’s records backups, McWilliams says the corporate system for backups is simply for disaster recovery purposes and not to accommodate FOI requests.

“They’re not really there to facilitate access to old information or respond to access requests. The intent is really significantly different,” he says.

The Express has also learned this is not the first time an FOI request has come back with a massive price tag.

Sources provided several other estimates for trails of information all costing more than $11,000.

Eleven months of communication between two individuals was quoted at $11,244.88, one month’s communication between the mayor, two members of staff and councillors would cost $11,512.88 (the same amount quoted to The Express), 13 months of communication between the city manager and a pair of individuals would run $11,566.48, and finally, texts and emails between two individuals, council and staff members for an 18-month period would cost $11,335.88. This latter estimate was appealed and the city returned with an estimate of approximately $722.

The quote claimed it would take 24 hours of IT time to retrieve the information, which amounted to 10 pages.

The Express has changed the scope of its request to eliminate the work of the external vendor, limiting the request to what the city has in its available records.