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Efficiency of city’s records system questioned

Oshawa resident Jeff Davis, seen here, spoke recently at a recent corporate services committee meeting to address concerns about the city’s handling of records management.

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

A resident with a number of outstanding FOI requests against the city recently blasted Oshawa’s handling of records management.

Jeff Davis spoke at the latest corporate services committee meeting.

Davis is among a group of residents who have pushed for the release of documents surrounding the purchase of 199 Wentworth Street East for a consolidated works depot in 2013.

The documents were originally set to be released on Aug. 23, 2018, but have yet to be made publicly available.

The only document released so far was a 2013 report by former city auditor general Ron Foster alleging the city overpaid for the property and accusing the then-city manager of influencing the process and threatening the independence of the auditor general’s office.

As reported earlier by The Oshawa Express, city clerk Andrew Brouwer said there may be up to 10,000 documents to be released, and the task is more extensive than first expected.

Brouwer said the timing of last fall’s municipal election and staffing issues have also played a part in the delay.

Lastly, the clerk explained the documents must be thoroughly reviewed to ensure they do not include private and confidential personal information.

Davis has been highly critical of the city’s handling of the situation in the past, and that message continued at the committee meeting.

He said Brouwer hasn’t been able to provide him with a concrete date of when the documents will be released.

Missing a ‘self-imposed deadline’ in August doesn’t help either.

“It really doesn’t look good,” Davis noted.

However, Brouwer told the committee he expects the documents to be released by March 31, “barring any technical issues.”

“We’ll definitely keep council in the loop,” he said.

But Davis had more issues with the city on his mind.

He is currently part of five FOI requests under appeal to the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC), some of which are up to five years old.

“Part of the reason why our appeals are two, three, fives years old is because the city cannot find records,” Davis stated. “The City of Oshawa has a long history of not being able to find records when doing an FOI request.”

In general, Davis believes the city’s records management system is “sadly inept.”

An updated review of Oshawa’s records system and the associated retention policy were slated for the third quarter of 2015 but still hasn’t seen the light of day.

“We are now in the first quarter of 2019,” Davis said.

Brouwer told The Oshawa Express, in the past, when staff presented to committee on an issue, it would be dropped from the “outstanding item” list.

This happened to the review in question.

The action was later pushed back to 2016, 2017, and then ultimately after the 2018 municipal election.

Brouwer said the review wouldn’t be focusing on a technical system for records management.

“What we are looking at is governance…the retention by-law itself,” he explains.

Historically, the primary focus of the program has been on paper records.

“What hasn’t been addressed comprehensively is our electronic records,” Brouwer says. “We need to assess and determine how we are going to manage those records.”

Brouwer says he expects the review to result in a “multi-year project where we are looking at enhancements year-to-year.”

Davis also called the city’s website “one of most difficult…in terms of finding the right information.”

“It takes literally hundreds of clicks…I would estimate I’ve spent thousands of hours on it,” he said.

He urged committee members it is council’s responsibility to provide staff “with everything they need” to have an efficient records management system.

Last summer, the city’s clerks department admitted certain issues had contributed to the lack of transparency and non-release of the works depot documents.

Davis accused the previous council of throwing the department under the bus.

“You can’t hide behind staff like our past council has done,” he told committee members.

Calling on new councillors to be “proactive,” Davis said, “This committee, in particular, needs to address the lack of records management system.”

Ward 5 regional councillor Brian Nicholson requested the clerk’s department report back to council sooner than later with an update on all the city’s FOI requests, especially those pertaining to 199 Wentworth Street East.

When informed the previous council had made a similar direction, Nicholson said, “when you ask staff for information you have to tell them when you want it.”

“[Otherwise], it will go into the great void and we’ll see it sometime three terms from now,” he said.

Ward 2 councillor Tito-Dante Marimpietri wanted to know specifically how long the process has been on the FOI requests made by Davis and his fellow residents.

“Would it be reasonable to say it’s half a decade,” Marimpietri rhetorically asked Brouwer, before adding the delays don’t seem to be a “legislative matter.”

“It’s a question of council and staff.”

Davis pointed a better “information flow, going in and out,” would improve the relationship between the city and its residents.