Freedom of information requests set tone for campaign

Municipality-of-Chatham-KentBy Greg Holden

Two municipal councillors seeking re-election have filed, on the same day, two separate freedom of information requests that ask for details on the police budget and the expenses at the John D. Bradley Convention Centre. Councillor Frank Vercouteren, who is seeking re-election in Ward 2, filed his request for a line-by-line detailing of police costs. Councillor Michael Bondy, seeking re-election in Ward 6, filed a second freedom of information request for costs related to the Bradley Centre.

The freedom of information requests and the report about them in The Voice, have been the target of some scathing comments by Art Stirling who is running for re-election in Ward 2. Stirling said on social media the two councillors should be ashamed of themselves for misleading the public only weeks before an election. In a telephone interview Stirling said, “The perception that there is a dark secret being kept from councillors is false.” Stirling had earlier commented that the budget information sought by Vercouteren was freely available on the Chatham-Kent police website. On the phone Stirling indicated that the police restored the budget information on the website yesterday. Stirling said a police source advised him the budget information was on the website in April and then in July it was removed. No reason was provided on why the budget information was restored. Messages were left for communications officer Renee Cowell who could not be reached.

Vercouteran had no interest in the restored budget data, “I wouldn’t even look at it. I know what is there. There is not enough information for what I was asking.” Vercouteren has pursued more transparency in the local police budget for years and said, “Police don’t need to give a line-by-line report but it is everyone’s tax-dollar and it is fair to ask ‘what are we supporting here?'” Vercouteren said he should have made the freedom of information request a month ago, but with the unexpected passing of his wife of 60 years he waited. Vercouteren expressed his disappointed that council voted down an opportunity to hear a free costing report by the OPP. The report would have been an information session on how the OPP charges municipalities for their services. “I see CKPS officers at the courts, which is provincial. Who is paying for that?”, asked Vercouteren.

Stirling said there is no reason to have an information session with the OPP. In support of the Chatham-Kent police, Stirling said the services the CKPS offer were very good. “The cost of a transition includes the severance owed to Chatham-Kent officers because of their contract with CKPS. Even though every front-line officer would have a job at the OPP (if the OPP took over from CKPS), they would still get their severance from Chatham-Kent. We also have more influence over the police budget (with two members on the Police Services Board).”

Michael Bondy spoke about the John D. Bradley Convention Centre and that his freedom of information request asked for detailed information about the day-to-day operations of the facility. “How can a business make informed decisions when they do not have the information they need? How much did it cost to buy the parking lot and the Tirecraft property? Does the municipality pay for functions we hold there and if so then we are compensating them even more.”, Bondy told the CKReview. Bondy seemed more interested than Vercouteren in having a line-by-line report, even calling into question the salaries paid to workers, which is proprietory information of Compass Group who runs the Bradley Centre. “Council is not the place to ask for details when Ramy (Ramy Boujawdeh, former General Manager of the Bradley Centre) spoke to us, they were just information sessions. This is a tax-payer funded company and we don’t know where the money goes.”

The kinds of information councillor Bondy seeks is unlikely to be available to the municipalities administration according to Stirling. “That is proprietory information of Compass Group”, Stirling said dismissively. “It’s a campaign tactic.”

Bondy didn’t deny his choice in timing, “It is an election issue. I have voters asking about the costs and I don’t have the answers.”

  • rhakker

    Dear Art Stirling! Does it hurt to have a look?