December 9, 2011
Mayor Rob Ford’s office is continuing to thwart efforts to get a peek at his daily itinerary, raising questions from Ontario’s information and privacy watchdog about his commitment to transparency and accountability.
The mayor has denied a request from The Globe and Mail to obtain his schedule within 30 days. The reason given was that meeting the time limit would bog down the Office of the Mayor.
The request under Freedom of Information legislation was supposed to be met by Dec. 2. The city’s privacy office has extended the deadline to Dec. 22.
Such requests can be delayed if they involve an onerous volume of documents.
“I haven’t seen the record, but I don’t understand how that explanation would fit in this case, that there would be a large number of records to be searched through for this request,” said Brian Beamish, assistant commissioner of access in the office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.
The mayor’s interim press spokesman, Sunny Petrujkic, explained that the office is responding to “a number of FOI requests and we’re working diligently to provide the information.”
The results of two requests for schedules from earlier in the mayor’s term appear to indicate that controls on mayoral records have been tightened. An FOI request for Mr. Ford’s itinerary dating from Dec. 1, 2010, to Jan. 31, 2011, revealed hundreds of appointments, including Christmas parties, ribbon cuttings and meetings with the likes of Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, former premier Mike Harris, impresario Johnathan Vrozos and developer Mario Cortellucci.
In December alone, he met with more than 200 groups and individuals.
But a second release, detailing his appointments for February and March, painted a far less active portrait. Entire days were blank. Most showed no more than four engagements.
The most recent FOI request was for calendar pages up until Oct. 31. The reply from the mayor’s office outlined the delay and offered a one-sentence explanation: “The reason for the time extension is that a more extensive search is required along with time needed to process the records, and meeting the time limit would unreasonably interfere with the operations of the institution.”
In May, the mayor’s press secretary, Adrienne Batra, said that the number of calendar entries shrunk due to privacy issues, something Mr. Beamish calls “inconceivable.”
“It seems highly unusual that the mayor would only have one professional engagement a day and that there’s not a record some place within the city that reflects what his daily activities are,” he said, adding that every meeting or event Mr. Ford attends in a mayoral capacity should be subject to disclosure.
Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner has been encouraging governments to embrace “proactive disclosure” of their records. “This doesn’t have to be an FOI issue,” Mr. Beamish said. “Take it right out of the FOI system and make a decision that, in the interests of transparency and accountability, the schedule of professional activities will be made public.”
Many governments have embraced the concept. Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi posts a detailed list on his website of everyone he meets.
“I don’t think you need to know if the mayor is taking his kids to a ball game,” said councillor Josh Matlow, “but I think that’s fair to ask public officials who are on the public dime how they are serving us, just as any boss could ask their employee what they are doing.”
The delay “doesn’t make sense to me,” Mr. Matlow said. “I carry my schedule in my BlackBerry. I know what I’m doing from day to day. It would be easy to let anyone know what I’m doing. If it takes them 30 days to tell you what is on their calendar, I would think they are going to be late for a lot of appointments.”
To read this article on theglobeandmail.com, please click here.