Sunday, May 08, 2011

Saskatoon board of police commissioners refusing to release in-camera records concerning new headquarters

Saskatoon city council and the board of police commissioners should be ashamed for insisting that the process around the change in scope of the new police headquarters was open and transparent.

Police Chief Clive Weighill noted in a recent op-ed to the StarPhoenix that on April 26, 2010, Rebanks Pepper Littlewood Architects Inc. (RPL) was named consultant for the project “through an open process.”

The request for proposal document that RPL responded to was prepared by city administration and issued March 9, 2010. It was never tabled a public meeting of city council, executive committee or police board. The city recently advised that it would only consider releasing the document if an access to information request were submitted.

The decision to award the contract to RPL was based on a recommendation by the executive committee made a private meeting on April 19, 2010. The issue was dealt with by the police board at an in-camera meeting prior to that but the date of the meeting has not been disclosed.

The administrative report that went to city council on April 26, 2010, gave no hint that RPL’s work might result in an increase in the size and cost of the project.

The process may have been open to the companies submitting proposals but it was closed to the public.

On October 22, 2010, the police board learned that the original estimate was low and that the plans should be updated. The board requested the executive committee consider increasing the scope of the RFP.

On November 1, 2010, the executive committee, which consists of all city councillors, gave the go-ahead to proceed with a revised RFP. It also directed administration to identify funding options to supplement the approved capital budget shortfall.

The city manager provided a verbal update on the RFP to the executive committee on December 13, 2010.

The police board subsequently approved changes to the scope of work to include an overall increase in building area from approximately 221,000 square feet to 329,000 square feet. On March 28, 2011, the executive committee determined that a revised budget of up to $131 million be approved.

These meetings, all chaired by Mayor Don Atchison, were closed to the public. At no point during this time was a report on the subject tabled at a public meeting. Weighill’s lone verbal update during the public portion of the February 24, 2011, police board meeting was far too little too late.

The city has released some information from the November 1 executive committee meeting, but only because an access request was filed. The records show that the police service, working with RPL, knew in July 2010 that a larger building would be required. City administration also knew because it assisted in refining the space needs program to a concept design development stage.

The police board, on the other hand, is refusing to release any information whatsoever from its in-camera meetings.

This may come as a surprise to some, but the police board and service, unlike most other provinces, are not subject to freedom of information laws.

However, the board’s lawyers, Scharfstein Gibbings Walen Fisher LLP, in a letter dated April 14, 2011, seem to suggest that even though the board is not covered under the Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, it is operating as if it were and is using the legislation to deny access to records. And that’s not all. The board is even refusing to disclose the dates of its closed-door meetings. How absurd is that?

The attorneys’ letter was in response to an informal request to the board on March 18, 2011, for copies of any reports pertaining to the new police headquarters as well as the minutes to the meetings where those reports were tabled.

The chief says that letters were sent to members of council, Broadway and Riversdale BIDs, North Saskatoon Business Association, Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce, the Partnership, school boards, community associations bordering the north-downtown area, FSIN and Saskatoon Tribal Council asking for input.

What goes unsaid is that the July 2010 letter to these stakeholders discussed the new police headquarters only in general terms and did not mention that the building might be larger and more expensive.

Furthermore, restricting discussions to a privileged few is not being open and transparent.

In November 2010, the same groups were sent a letter inviting them to an open house to answer questions and address any concerns that may exist. Like the previous letter, nothing was said about the scope of the project changing.

Weighill and councillors point to the open house held December 7, 2010, at the Frances Morrison Library as evidence of transparency. The open house was a farce. The police service ran one tiny, inconspicuous ad in the StarPhoenix on December 4, 2010, to promote the event. There was no ad in the Saskatoon Sun, which is delivered free to nearly every household in the city. Additionally, the ad and police service news release for the open house gave no indication that a larger, costlier building would be discussed.

Only 12 people attended the open house, five of which had received a personal invitation from Weighill. The other seven were youth who, according to Weighill, were presumably walking by, saw coffee and cookies and decided to drop in and see what was going on.

Let’s be honest. By the time the matter reached city council on April 4, 2011, the vote was a formality. Both the police board and executive committee had already given the thumbs up to proceed.

Tiny ad for police service open house, StarPhoenix, Dec. 4, 2010


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