Debate continues over the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) requests filed by Chatham-Kent council members seeking the Chatham-Kent Police Service budget and financial information about the John D. Bradley Convention Centre.
The day after last week’s Chatham Voice story, the CKPS posted budget information on its website, but South Kent Coun. Frank Vercouteren said Monday he isn’t ready yet to cancel his Freedom of Information request for a line-by-line budget submission.
“It’s more than I’ve seen before but I’m standing by my FOI,” he said.
The CKPS told The Voice that the budget had been posted in March, but that a technical problem deleted it from public view.
Chatham Coun. Michael Bondy also requested detailed information about the John D. Bradley convention centre, which, according to projections, will have lost $1 million by the end of its third year of operation.
South Kent Coun. Art Stirling was critical of the FOI requests saying the information posted on the police website is at “the same level of detail” as other municipal departments.
“This is a campaign stunt,” Stirling said. “Coun. Vercouteren tabled a notice of motion regarding police just before the 2010 election.”
As for Bondy’s request, Stirling said it’s possible the municipality won’t be able to put together a meaningful response to the Bradley Centre FOI before voters head to the polls Oct. 27.
“It’s an election tactic.”
Vercouteren responded to the criticism by saying, “I had the request ready to go in June. My wife passed away and I didn’t get back to it until this month.”
Of the convention centre, Bondy said, “of course it’s an election issue. I’m running for re-election and people are asking me what’s going on with the centre. I don’t feel comfortable with what I’ve been given and I’m not about to say otherwise. I will not apologize for trying to do my job even if it upsets other councillors.”
Chatham Coun. Derek Robertson said he has concerns regarding the convention centre and police budget, but
Freedom of Information (FOI) requests won’t get to the heart of the issues.
“We know what the (police) problem is. It’s one of wages. It’s an annual challenge to deal with that, as $1 million extra per year on the police budget adds up to three quarters of one percent of a general tax increase.”
He said he would welcome a more open dialogue with the police services board.
“Obviously considering the size of our council we can’t all meet but perhaps a smaller group could open a dialogue. It doesn’t hurt to talk,” he said.
“We keep hearing how the (provincial) arbitration system is broken, but we don’t have an evidence-based argument for that because we don’t go to arbitration with police,” he added. “Perhaps it’s time the board looked at that issue or at least talked with council about it.”
Robertson said there is a perceived danger for a politician questioning spending, especially during an election year.
“It’s very easy for the message to become that if you question police costs, you’re anti-police. I’m certainly not and I don’t know of any councilor who is, but in reality we need to change the system because we don’t have the ability to continue to pay.”
As for the Bradley Centre, Robertson said Bondy raised an interesting point regarding who uses the facility.
“I’ve asked for information on how much the municipality uses the centre and what we pay,” he said. “I want to know if we’re our own best customer, but I don’t think I need to file an FOI to get it.”
He said the previous council proceeded with the centre using a fundamentally flawed consultants’ report which overstated the economic spinoff of the centre by more than $2 million per year, according to a second consultant brought in to examine the work of the first consultant.
“In my mind, everything’s on the table, including opening up the agreement with Compass Canada,” he said. “We need a fresh approach. We can’t say we’re all out of ideas but haven’t tried anything.”