Summerside's new access to information bylaw raises concerns at council

Summerside city council members are wondering how much it will cost to bring in its first-ever access to information bylaw.

City's lawyers tell council cost of processing requests is unknown

The City of Summerside says it will enact the required bylaws by the end of February, as required by the province.

Summerside city council members are wondering how much it will cost to bring in its first-ever access to information bylaw.

The city's new Access to Information and Protection of Personal Privacy Bylaw, passed first reading by a unanimous vote at Tuesday's meeting of council, but concerns remain.

"We need to get a better handle on costs," Coun. Brian McFeely told council during discussion before the vote.

Adoption of such a bylaw is mandatory under the province's recently updated Municipal Act. Staff from a law firm that handles legal matters for the city gave council members a briefing on how the bylaw will work, and outlined some of the demands that could be put on staff.

"This is a significant shift, I think it's fair to say, in municipal governance in Prince Edward Island," said Ian McCarville, a staff member of Key-Murray Law.

It's not just Summerside. It's every municipaltiy on the Island.- Basil Stewart, Mayor of Summerside

The complete text of the new bylaw was included in the Tuesday's briefing notes to council.

One staff person at Summerside City Hall will handle access to information requests, council was told. Processing a request might require consultation with multiple departments within the city to access all relevant documents.

Some names or other personal information might have to be redacted before the documents are provided to the person who requested the information.

All city council minutes and financial documents, including all payments made to council members, would be accessible under the bylaw. Records of closed meetings, commercial and real estate negotiations, and matters subject to solicitor-client privilege are among the items that would not be made public.

Legal staff told council it is not clear how much staff time might have to be devoted to information requests under the bylaw.

The city is entitled to set a schedule of fees for access-to-information requests. Those fees are payable by the person requesting the information, and may not exceed the actual cost of performing the search.

Retention of Records Bylaw also mandatory

The city is also bringing in a Retention of Records Bylaw.  It stipulates how long various types of municipal documents must be retained and remain in storage before they can be destroyed. The Retention of Records Bylaw is also mandatory under the province's Municipal Act.

"It's not only Summerside. It's every municipality on the Island," said Mayor Basil Stewart.

"We have to have it complete ... so that will be done."

Legal staff told council members the new bylaws must be in place by the end of February.

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