Town ordered to hand over some of its IT information Derek Dunn
Openness at Arnprior town hall is the focus of an ongoing case involving the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) of Ontario. A blank envelope with a print-out of the IPC’s “recent orders” page was recently dropped into the Chronicle-Guide’s mailbox. A sticky note attached said, “Transparency and openness in Arnprior town hall”. The webpage reveals two March 30 decisions against the Corporation of the Town of Arnprior. The two orders, placed by adjudicator Catherine Corban, forced the town to grant information that has been withheld a private citizen (appellant) for about 10 years. “I order the town to disclose the records to the appellant and dismiss the aspect of the appeal dealing with the reasonableness of the town’s search for responsive records,” Corban said. “In my view, it is not evident from the face of the record how its disclosure could reasonably be expected to reveal information that could be used by the affected party’s competitors in future situations.” The case is about the town’s computer system and some of its con-
tents. When chief administrative officer Michael Wildman was hired he found “significant problems” with the system. The server was bound to crash permanently within six months. He produced a report for council detailing the need for adequate equipment and pricing. An information technology firm was hired to find weaknesses and solutions, and to do upgrades. The appellant wanted to see that report. But town staff – on advice from lawyers and following a peer review – denied it. The report contained information about the most sensitive areas of the town’s computer system; along with the physical locations that could be vulnerable to vandalism and theft. Were a hacker to gain access, it could open up private residents’ banking and medical information held in confidence by the town. Anyone who pays utility and other bills online or has special medical conditions that are shared when signing up for an activity at Nick Smith would be at risk. The appellant won the right to see two “very old contracts with a service provider,” Wildman explained. The appellant was not granted permission to learn how the municipal-
ity’s computer server is backed up or how to get into it. “We take people’s privacy very seriously,” Mayor David Reid said. “It’s important to have that trust.” Corban has also ordered additional information from the town to assist in another decision having to do with the same case. Wildman is confident she understands and will agree with the town’s position on protecting the private information of residents, along with the safety of the system. PRIVACY ISSUE
He noted that the Arnprior and District Museum website was recently hacked. (It will migrate to the town’s site.) The National Research Centre and the City of Ottawa had their sites hacked. Vigilance is paramount, he indicated. “It’s a scary world out there for those of us who are not experts in IT,” Wildman said. That said, Reid agreed that a striking the balance between openness with what is being done on the taxpayer’s dime and the protection of citizens private information is a delicate one. “We take accountability and openness and transparency very seriously,” he said. “But there are other
Pitch in Saturday, town asks residents This Saturday, May 9 is the annual Pitch-in Day in Arnprior. The town is encouraging residents to gather together in a spring cleaning exercise. Families and other groups are urged to pick up litter along roadways and in parks from 9 a.m. to noon. To have the trash people collect picked up, call Deanna at the town (613-623-4231, ext. 1832) and register for the Pitch-in effort.
The Town of Arnprior has only one backhoe in its fleet, and it has been used extensively. Age and wear-and-tear have finally caught up to the equipment, Arnprior council was told by staff at its April 27 meeting. Council agreed to go ahead and buy a new backhoe to get ahead of additional and unnecessary costs.
conditions. We don’t want to expose ourselves to risk.” On the openness side, Reid said the widespread and long-time use of “in-camera sessions” – formal council meetings closed to the public – deal strictly with personnel, land acquisition, and legal matters. If a staff member is to be disciplined or fired; if the town is considering how much it will pay for a parcel of land; if it is being sued: these are reasons for incamera sessions. Reid said conversation stays on topic. “The integrity of the process is paramount for this council. We stick to what is relevant,” he said. “I would put my position on the line to anyone who would question that.” Sometimes when a municipality refuses to give up information, a freedom of information (FOI) request is filed. That requires the bureaucracy to follow specific steps and justify its decisions along the way. Wildman says the process removes potential confrontation. “Emotion is removed. We follow the rules and we will never step outside the bounds,” he said. “Just because people ask and we don’t agree that doesn’t have to lead to animosity.” Only a handful of FOIs are filed
per year. Arnprior was among the first municipalities in Ontario to hire an integrity commissioner to deal with complaints. Less than 15 per cent of the province’s 444 municipalities have someone who conducts independent investigations. INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER
“Arnprior is on the cutting edge, for sure,” Wildman said. “We also implemented a code of conduct two years ago. Only about 75 municipalities have implemented theirs.” McNab-Braeside is working through the process to have a code of conduct for both staff and council. Yet another layer of oversight is the provincial ombudsman. The Accountability Act came into being last July. Ontarians are now able to file complaints against municipal governments, universities and school boards. Although Wildman and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario argued against an ombudsman – “It’s a question of having a local watchdog that fits the local conditions” – he is confident that municipalities are more accountable than ever. “Frankly, we are more open and transparent than we’ve ever been.”
JOI N TH E CONVE RSATION :
PROVIDE YOUR INPUT ON GREATER OTTAWA’S ELECTRICITY FUTURE A reliable source of electricity is essential to supporting community growth and powering our lives. A new 20-year electricity plan looks at ways to ensure a reliable supply of electricity for the Ottawa area. This Integrated Regional Resource Plan was developed by Hydro Ottawa, Hydro One Networks Inc., and the Independent Electricity System Operator and can be downloaded at: www.ieso.ca/GreaterOttawa. Participate in an Informational Webinar You’re invited to a webinar to review the Ottawa plan, discuss next steps to develop longer-term electricity options, and learn about the formation of a Local Advisory Committee. Questions will be taken via phone or weblink below.
Join the Local Advisory Committee The Local Advisory Committee will provide advice on the plan’s longer-term options, as well as how to best engage the broader community in this discussion. To learn how to nominate yourself or an individual, please visit www.ieso.ca/LAC.
DATE: Thursday, May 14, 2015
Nomination deadline: June 4, 2015
TIME: 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. URL: http://www.meetview.com/ieso20150514 TOLL-FREE PHONE: 1-888-239-2037
Arnprior Chronicle-Guide - Thursday, May 7, 2015 7
Arnprior Chronicle-Guide May 7, 2015