By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
The City of Oshawa is preparing to release a cache of approximately 5,000 documents related to the investigation into the 2013 purchase of 199 Wentworth Street East for a new works depot, marking a long-awaited victory for a group of Oshawa residents who have been fighting for years to shine a light on the maligned land deal.
The decision follows a recent appeal surrounding information provided to municipal investigator George Rust-D’Eye.
The city hired Rust-D’Eye to analyze claims made by former auditor general Ron Foster into the purchase of the depot property. In his report, Foster claimed the city overpaid for the property and accused the then city manager of influencing the process and threatening the independence of the auditor general’s office.
When the city hired Rust-D’Eye to conduct the investigation, he was given a computer at city hall, complete with an F: drive that contained the information and reports that would be relevant to his investigation.
Following the controversy, a group of residents, including Jeff Davis, Rob Vella, and former mayoral candidate Lou DeVuono, filed a Freedom of Information Request to obtain the F: drive and associated documents. However, they were told at the time that the F: drive had been deleted. An appeal to the Information and Privacy Commissioner resulted in the city producing a pair of sworn affadvits affirming that the F: drive was indeed deleted and the information it contained could not be found.
However, most recently, the group uncovered an email from the city’s manager of records and information systems that notes the F: drive had been backed up elsewhere.
This claim resulted in a subsequent appeal to the IPC who came back to the city demanding clarification on what in fact happened to the F: drive and why sworn statements were made claiming the information could not be found.
In their response, filed with the IPC at the end of April, the city admits the F: drive was indeed backed up elsewhere. However, following the back-up, Jason McWilliam the city’s manager of records and information systems says the information was integrated into the city’s larger records system, and the back-up deleted
“Given the actions of staff to integrate records into a single repository, it is impossible for staff at this point in time to distinguish records found on the F: drive and email account from other records prepared or compiled by the City as part of the investigations,” he states.
For that reason, if any of the records that were once contained on the F:drive do still exist, they are now amassed with all the city others records and with the replica copy of the F: drive, it would be nearly impossible to determine which records were at one point included on the drive.
However, with that said, the city has proposed to release a large collection of documents pertaining to the investigation, due to the public interest in the matter.
“Recognizing the interest in the subject matter, the city is agreeable to the review and proactive disclosure, subject to MFIPPA’s disclosure provisions, of electronic records maintained by the city respecting the investigation conducted by the name investigator,” McWilliam states. “Such records will contain any records which may have initially been found within the F: drive and any email correspondence which may have been delivered to the oshawa.ca email address established for the investigator.”
Moving forward, it’s noted that the disclosure will take “significant time for staff to review and prepare for disclosure,” but the hope is to make them public within 120 days of the city’s response to the IPC, which was sent on April 25.
“Any release of records is a win for transparency and accountability, particularly regarding the Consolidated Works Depot (CWD),” Davis says, adding that despite the city’s agreement to release the document, there are still concerns.
“The fact that multiple Freedom of Information requests have been filed regarding the CWD related fiasco, and the city is now finally looking to release potentially 5,000 further pages, suggests they have been less than forthright in response to previous requests. I understand that in some cases the requests may not have been worded to include these soon to be released records, but the issues centered around the CWD land purchase, the closing of the auditor general’s office, the allegations of wrongdoing and the continued efforts to cover up the truth show the current administration has no respect for the citizens and taxpayers or the mandate of transparency and accountability in the Municipal Act, 2001.”