The city is citing a clerical error as the reason why two seperate versions of the same document were released to the public.
A CBC Radio story, which broke last week, revealed that there were two different versions of a Freedom of Information (FOI) document from a meeting on Dec. 2, 2014 where Grand Forks Mayor Konrad asks for and receives the Neptune Technology Group water meter contract.
Both versions of the document state that on Tuesday, Dec. 2014 Mayor Konrad met with then-acting CAO Diane Heinrich; then acting corporate officer Sarah Winton; then-manager of operations Roger Huston; and building and bylaw officer Wayne Kopan.
In both, Winton states: “Prior to Roger and Wayne joining the meeting, Diane and I (Winton) sat with the mayor at which time he requested to see the Neptune contract. Diane advised the mayor that she could provide the contract for his viewing, minus any proprietary information. She further advised him that he could be in a potential conflict of interest if he looked at the full contract.
“Mayor Konrad advised Diane that he was in no way in a conflict of interest situation and that as the mayor he had every right to look at the full contract. Diane said that she would provide the contract for him to review and left the meeting to get the contract.”
The first version, which was released to an FOI request from a citizen on Jan. 26, 2015, ended with: “She (Heinrich) returned with Neptune’s contract and handed it to the mayor, who took it, keeping it in his position [sic] for the next few days while he read it.”
The second version, which was released to an FOI request from CBC in January 2016, omitted that and ended with, “Once Roger and Wayne joined the meeting there was discussion regarding: mayor advised that Neptune was in breach of contract because they had not used a certified plumber to install meters or had a supervisor present to inspect each install.”
Both the mayor and Councillor Julia Butler had been under scrutiny for conflict of interest regarding the water meter program in early 2015 by the city’s legal firm of Young Anderson. Konrad and Butler both received verbal letters from the law firm on May 25, 2015 stating Konrad had an indirect peniary conflict of interest in relation to the water meter program, and Butler had a direct pecuniary interest in relation to the water meter program. No action was taken against the mayor, who did recuse himself from discussions about the water meter program, but it did result in a Supreme Court application (recently dismissed) to have Butler removed.
In a press release from the city on Monday explaining the two versions, Doug Allin, CAO, said, “We immediately began looking into why the versions would be different as we could not understand how this could have occurred. With there being more than a year between the two requests it took us some time to figure out what happened.”
Allin explained that the notes are not a formal document. They are notes jotted down using Microsoft Word to develop reports and as a reminder about what has been done.
“The notes are not sent to anyone, nor are they finalized and filed in as an official report,” he wrote. “When pulling together the FOI for the January 2015 request, there was one final review of the content to make sure everything was included and we made a last-minute addition to the file to note that the Neptune contract had been provided for the mayor as part of being as comprehensive as possible in our response. The FOI was then immediately packaged and sent to the citizen who requested the information.”
Allin said that when the FOI package was later filed in the office, the last-minute addition was not saved. “It was a filing mistake at the time,” he wrote. “When the second request came in, we simply pulled the FOI package and re-sent it as is. We did not notice a one-sentence difference on one page of the package.”
Allin stated that the city could not explain or understand why there was a difference. “We sincerely regret that the last-minute change wasn’t filed properly, but we want to assure our residents that we will review our processes to provide safeguards that ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Mayor Konrad said that he did not see the documents about the Dec. 2, 2014 meeting, nor did he know there were two versions released. “I was not aware of any of those documents,” said Konrad. “When Chris Walker (CBC reporter) threw that document in my face in that meeting and asked me to explain them, that’s why I said, ‘I don’t know anything about them. I don’t want to talk about them.’ I had no knowledge of these documents even existing nor was I the least bit interested.”
Konrad said that when he first entered office he was somewhat overzealous. “Being new in office at the time, you must respect that—you know the platforms I ran on—based on the water meters,” said Konrad. “So of course you become overzealous thinking you’re going to change the world when you get into office. Until you’re on the inside. Get a feel of when you’re on the inside—you learn a lot more of what’s really going on and the powers and limitations you have and what realism you put on the fact.”
Konrad said he did his due diligence by analyzing the Neptune contract, “to see if it was set up right; was everything in order? End of story. That was my only constant. Not to end it; not to throw Neptune out. There was none of that.”
Konrad said he researched the project using his expertise as a plumber. “I had all the accessibility being in the industry,” he said. “I went out and got all the right answers. When I had all the right answers and the lawyers said you may be in a potential perceived indirect pecuniary conflict of interest I said, ‘guess what? I’m out of here. Whatever I say there’s no effect. I’m not going to stop the program. There’s nothing wrong with the program. Why would I want to battle City Hall and cost the taxpayers a whack of money and cost myself a whack of money?”
Konrad said his only issue with the Neptune water meter contract was the installers. “I was checking to see if they were doing everything by the book. The only issue I had was the installers and once that was rectified in my mind, I dropped it. There was no point to fight the water meter program any more.”
Councill Butler told the Gazette that she had seen on at least one other occasion documents being changed. “I’ve seen them change documents before,” said Butler. “I’ve got one that’s had three different changes. The water rates committee — it’s been completely rewritten; different font, everything. Names have been changed. So it’s been done before. I was trying to give them the benefit of the doubt.”
When contacted by the Gazette about other changed documents, Mayor Konrad said he wasn’t sure and would look into it.
She would like to see an independent investigation into council and the city.
“I’ve been asking for that for a long time,” said Butler. “I would like to see an overview of the organization. I’d like to see a forensic audit, and I would like to see an investigation of the internal workings of staff. I took it to council and they had no interest in it so that’s as far I can take it.”
Butler said before she was elected she phoned the provincial government to see if there could be an investigation and “didn’t get anywhere either.”
“There’s really no recourse for local governments if they have a problem,” she said. “It’s something that really has to be worked out internally. If the rest of council and staff aren’t interested, I haven’t found any other way.”
She said she has not contacted the provincial government calling for an investigation since the Supreme Court case. “There’s a 30-day period where [the city] can appeal the court ruling,” she said. “I’m just going to wait and see how things work out.”
A public affairs officer from the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, which provides guidance to local governments in the province, said that citizens can always ask their local government representatives directly for answers and/or explanations.
“If there are concerns that a local government has not complied with the legislative framework in taking actions or decisions on a particular circumstance or matter, citizens have the ability to make an application to the courts for a judicial review of council’s decision or actions on that matter,” said the spokesperson. “The courts have the expertise to adjudicate questions of law and fact regarding due process, administrative fairness and jurisdiction of local governments.”
The spokesperson said that the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA) gives any person the right to request access to records held by “public bodies,” including local governments. The local government has 30 days to respond to that request.
“If after the 30-day period a respondent has not received a response or they are not satisfied with the response, they may ask for a review of the local government’s response through a request to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. FOIPPA allows for an individual to ask the office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner to review and decision, act, or failure to act with regards to a request under FOIPPA.”