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North Bay picks up an honourable mention in government secrecy awards
NORTH BAY -- The City of North Bay has picked up an "award," but it won’t be hanging it up on the wall at city hall anytime soon.
The city received an honourable mention in the Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy.
This "award" is given out to call public attention to government agencies that put extra effort into denying public access to relative government information that the public has a right to know.
However, Mayor Al McDonald ensures the city is open and transparent with both the media and the public.
"We are transparent and we have to follow legislation," said McDonald. "When I say 'we,' the staff have to follow it. We, the mayor and council, are not involved in that process."
Kevin Ferris is a concerned taxpayer who says he isn't happy with the city's municipal leaders for their history of a lack of transparency.
Ferris says the removal and consequent $400,000 payout of former Chief Administrative Officer Jerry Knox has not been fully explained despite a Freedom of Information request and talks with the privacy commissioner. The process, started by Ferris, began shortly after the 2018 municipal election.
"This has been their way of doing business for the last 10 years, that I can recall," said Ferris, who filed an FOI against the city. "There was an in-camera meeting on December 8, 2015, where supposedly the council gave direction to the staff to enter this contract with him for a phantom corporate advisor position. I want to see that motion and I want to see that vote."
It took another Freedom of Information request to get information released regarding the fallout of the 2018 Summer in the Park event.
The Code of Silence Awards are given out every year by a jury from four press-freedom advocacy groups: the Canadian Association of Journalists, Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University, News Media Canada and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. One member from each organization makes up a jury, who chooses the "winner." This year, the town of Erin, Ont. picked up the "top" award.
In addition to North Bay, the awards' jury identified four other municipalities that they say deserve honourable mentions: Cranbrook, B.C., Morinville, Alta., Cornwall, Ont., and Côte-Saint-Luc, Que.
"There just appeared to be a pattern of less-than-robust commitment to freedom of expression and transparency of information and sharing it with the public," said Centre for Free Expression Director James Turk when asked why North Bay made the shortlist.
Officials from the Centre for Free Expression say the award isn’t given out to bash any members of government, but instead to show officials that the public is disappointed in the lack of transparency that takes place.
"We do follow the Freedom of Information privacy act and that’s really legislation from the province," said McDonald.
The North Bay mayor says allpublic meetings are advertised in advance and live-streamed, council reports and other information of public interest, such as meeting minutes, council declarations of conflict and city bylaws also posted to the city's website.
"There’s a lot of talk about transparency and openness. Let’s see it," concludes Ferris.
The Centre for Free Expression says it receives nominations from the public who are disappointed with the way their municipal government operates. The four organizations involved in the awards advocate for substantive reform to Canada's federal access-to-information law.