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Tyee municipal FOI audit finds the region's good, bad and ugly

Going into the 2014 civic elections, the last until 2018, how open are local governments around southwestern British Columbia when it comes to the spending and meetings of their mayors?

The Tyee conducted an informal test of Freedom of Information offices stretching from Squamish to Hope. Requests were sent Sept. 24 seeking copies of mayors' expense reports and receipts for the month of June and mayors' daily agendas since Aug. 24. Some responses were good. Others bad or downright ugly.

The good

The 30-business day deadline for responses was Nov. 6, but Maple Ridge was lightning quick. Within 46 minutes it provided a link to the agenda for city council's regular expense report update. In June, Mayor Ernie Daykins had $73.90 in iPad and cell phone charges. Since January, the entire seven-member council reported $6,345.54 in expenses. On Sept. 26, Maple Ridge sent Daykin's calendar.

Belcarra, Bowen Island, Chilliwack, Kent and Squamish responded between Oct. 1 to 7. Langley City, Mission, District of North Vancouver, West Vancouver and Pitt Meadows responded between Oct. 21 to 29. Abbotsford responded Nov. 3.

There were few remarkable entries in the mayors' calendars for the end of summer/start of fall period. Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, who was reimbursed for $928.30 B.C. Mayors' Caucus expenses in June, met Sept. 4 for lunch with one of his municipality's most powerful land owners. Kevin Layden, CEO of Westwood Plateau and Burke Mountain developer Wesbild, and the company's chair Hassan Khoshrowhsahi joined him at Hawksworth restaurant in downtown Vancouver.

On Sept. 17, Vancouver Whitecaps' executive Rachel Lewis and consultant Gary Pooni came to visit, two days after New Westminster rejected spending $11.4 million on stadium renovations for the Whitecaps' USL PRO farm team in 2015.

The bad

Surrey released expenses for outgoing Mayor Dianne Watts and the two councillors who want her job, Linda Hepner and Barinder Rasode on Nov. 6, but it took an extra day for Hepner's calendar and a week for Watts's calendar.

Names of most of the people North Vancouver City Mayor Darrell Mussatto met were censored for privacy. Port Moody responded Nov. 13. New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright's expense records provided Nov. 10.

While Anmore Mayor Heather Anderson claimed $180 for 400 kilometres of vehicle expenses to attend Metro Vancouver and TransLink meetings from April to July, her calendar was not provided.

Hope replied via email with Mayor Susan Johnston's calendar on Oct. 31. Before the deadline, yes, but it originally wanted to charge 90 cents for photocopies, according to a letter mailed with an 85 cent stamp. It relented, but some of the mayor's calendar entries were incomplete. For instance, at 11 a.m. Sept. 18, she was scheduled to meet with "Mr."

The ugly

City of White Rock wouldn't budge from its Sept. 26 letter asking for $30 each for Mayor Wayne Baldwin's calendar and expenses. It claimed the job would take four hours to search and process (the law says the first three hours are free).

Burnaby said Oct. 31 that it needed until Dec. 18 to consult a third-party before releasing Mayor Derek Corrigan's agenda. His June expenses, released Nov. 3, included a $750 monthly transport allowance and $286.62 in fuel. It came with two Chevron receipts and one from Esso; both oil companies have local refineries. Port Coquitlam said it needed until Dec. 22 to consult a third party about Mayor Greg Moore's agenda.

Vancouver waited until Nov. 4 to send a letter referring to the city's open data website for a list of Mayor Gregor Robertson's expenses. It refused to release copies of the receipts, even though public bodies are obliged to give access to records, subject to the limited and reasonable redactions allowed under the law. The next week, it coughed up a refund receipt for $16.36 from the Niagara Falls Marriott Gateway and another for $896 for 40 glass frames for proclamations from Blue Lotus Art Gallery at Surrey's Guildford Town Centre.

Robertson's Oct. 31-released calendar included various redactions of names of people he met. The city cited fear of harming personal privacy when it redacted a Sept. 8 entry. It claimed fear of harm to city finances over the identity of those who were at a 90-minute Sept. 9 meeting at the Four Seasons and an hour-long Sept. 12 meeting inside the Mayor's Office.

From the Sept. 10 calendar entry, it appeared the mayor took a day off mid-week. The Vancouver Whitecaps' evening match against the San Jose Sharks was the only entry of the day. On Sept. 19, he went to an evening reception at the Hyatt Regency where the Chinese consulate was marking the 65th anniversary of the People's Republic of China.

No responses were received from Richmond, Township of Langley or Lions Bay.

North Vancouver based Bob Mackin is a regular contributor to The Tyee.

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