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City of Revelstoke denies freedom of information request on developer lawsuit
How much did the City of Revelstoke pay a property developer to settle a land development agreement gone sour? Was it the full $14 million plaintiff Selkirk Land and Cattle Corporation (SLCC) lawyers asked for when they filed their lawsuit against the city in 2011? And what were the terms of the settlement?
As the Times Review reported in June of 2013, the City of Revelstoke opted to settle the lawsuit out of court, issuing a blanket “no comment” on the details of the settlement. The proponent confirmed in June that a non-disclosure agreement was part of the settlement.
But what about taxpayers’ and residents’ interest? Do they have a right to know how much they are paying for the zip-lips deal? Aside from the cost of the actual settlement, City of Revelstoke liability insurance costs are going up by just over $10,000 next year, attributable to several lawsuits against the City of Revelstoke.
The lawsuit stems from a development deal gone wrong on a 106-acre parcel of land near Revelstoke Mountain Resort the SLCC planned to develop into a subdivision. In short, the developer allowed the city onto the property to build a water reservoir and roadways, but the SLCC said the city didn’t live up to their end of the bargain and damaged its property. The statement of claim listed many issues this alleged damage created, although city lawyers countered many of the claims in defence documents filed with the court.
The Times Review is no closer to finding the accurate answer after the City of Revelstoke, on Nov. 6, issued a blanket denial to our request for information filed with the city under the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA).
After our direct requests for information on the settlement was denied by the City of Revelstoke, the Times Review filed an FOI request on July 11, 2013. In the spirit of co-operation, we responded to a request from the City of Revelstoke and filed an amended request on Aug. 6 that would narrow the scope of paperwork city staff would need to process. We also had direct conversations with the city on the issue.
On Sept. 3, the City of Revelstoke sent a letter stating the request would cost $1,234 for locating, producing and shipping the records requested. The city agreed to waive the fee because the Times Review made the request in the public interest.
“As the number of requests involved are significant and there is limited staff time available to deal with a task of this magnitude, please be prepared for a delay while we attempt to cope with your request,” wrote city Director of Finance Graham Inglis in the Sept. 3 letter.
Then, unexpectedly, on Nov. 6 the city responded with a letter saying they were “unable to release any of the documents you have requested.”
The city cited two sections of FOIPPA legislation related to “legal advice” and “disclosure harmful to the financial or economic interests” of the city.
In a Nov. 20 request, the Times Review again asked the city to reconsider, noting the FOIPPA legislation pertains to information, not documents, and the city had the option to redact and sever information – traditionally known as ‘blacking out’ sections with a Jiffy marker. Our appeal was again denied by the city.
On Dec. 4 the Times Review filed a request for review with the Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner of B.C. A staff person at that office said it could be weeks or months before the request is reviewed, and likely months more before any decision is forthcoming.
When asked for comment for this story updating readers on the status of the FOI request, city Chief Administrative Officer Tim Palmer said releasing information wouldn’t be “appropriate:”
“In the end, what’s been provided to you is what’s been deemed appropriate and within the limits of what is appropriate on that file,” Palmer said.