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Summerland swamped with Freedom of Information requests

Bulk of requests received so far in 2023 have come from 1 applicant
Municipal staff in Summerland have received 47 Freedom of Information requests so far in 2023, resulting in additional work for some members of staff. (Summerland Review file photo)

Summerland municipal staff have been facing a growing number of Freedom of Information requests, with many coming from a single person.

Kendra Kinsley, corporate officer for the municipality, said 47 Freedom of Information requests have been received so far in 2023, up from 31 during all of 2022.

The 47 requests this year have come from 21 individuals, but 40 per cent of the requests have come from just one individual, she said.

Of the requests filed this year, 31 have been closed, along with two requests from 2022. Municipal staff searched at least 12,747 pages and released 10,436 pages from these searches. Not all documents under a Freedom of Information search can be released to the public.

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Kinsley said the remaining 16 active files will require searching more than 33,000 documents. In some cases, work on a single file can take around 100 hours of municipal staff time.

One file alone will have around 8,400 pages. Another is close to 6,000 and a third tops 4,800 pages. Four of the 16 remaining files have unknown page counts.

In addition to the lengthy searches, each word on a document must be reviewed in context before the information may be released.

Because of the growing number of Freedom of Information requests, the deputy corporate officer’s sole work has involved handling these requests. As a result, the responsibilities normally under the deputy corporate officer’s duties have gone to others on municipal staff.

Kinsley said the volume of Freedom of Information requests for this year would provide enough work for two full-time staff members. Adding two positions would cost roughly $200,000, including wages and employee benefits.

A tax increase of one per cent would add a little more than $100,000 to the municipal budget.

Mayor Doug Holmes said other communities in British Columbia are also seeing an increase in Freedom of Information requests.

Coun. Adrienne Betts said she respects the public’s requests for information searches, but added that there is a significant cost to find the information for 21 individuals.

“There’s a big cost to the Freedom of Information requests,” she said. “We’re an open, transparent organization and hopefully we can provide answers to people.”

Coun. Erin Trainer said the increase in requests is creating problems for municipal staff.

“How we’re operating right now is not really sustainable,” she said.

Graham Statt, chief administrative officer for Summerland, said one of council’s values is transparency. However, if the trend to more Freedom of Information requests continues, new solutions will be needed.

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John Arendt

About the Author: John Arendt

John Arendt has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years. He has a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Journalism degree from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.
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