SODC Demands $4,514 to Release Information on Consultant Pay-outs

SODC has quoted a price tag of $4, 514.39 for releasing information on consultant pay-outs. Above, an artist’s rendering takes an Elysian view of the Oceanfront lands.

By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: Aug. 4, 2012

The best way to block information? Put a hefty price tag on it.

This week, Squamish Oceanfront Development Corporation (SODC) used that trick to obstruct information on the payouts it made to its 120 consultants. 

SODC is demanding $4514.39 to provide answers for questions related to pay-outs for its 120 consultants.

The demand for money was in response to a FOI request filed by the Reporter three weeks ago.

Four questions were asked: The names of all the consultants hired by the SODC , the dollar rate for which they were hired, and the amount of money paid till date.

The FOI also included questions on how much was paid to former CEO Drew Stotesbury, and other top apparatchiks.  

The district’s arm length corporation claims it will take 87 hours to process the request, at a cost of $46.33 per hour.

Then, of course, there is the 12 per cent HST.

Even if the money was paid, there are no guarantees the information will tumble out of SODC black hole.

SODC is concerned the disclosure might affect the interest or invade the privacy of consultants.

“Once we have received the payments, we will notify the consultants, and give them an opportunity to make representations concerning disclosures,” the SODC says.   

The Oceanfront lands have been a battleground of conflicting visions and egos, and its development has saddled the taxpayers with a debt of more than $8 million.

No doubt there is information on the debt and about SODC operating costs in its annual financial statements, but minute details on who was paid for what is not as readily available.

The FOI was an attempt to find the architecture of these payments.

This online newspaper can’t afford to pay more than $4,000, a fact that won’t be lost on those who drafted the reply.

Clogging the flow of information by putting a price is done with a practiced ease by local governments across Canada.  

Two weeks ago, Toronto School Board set the gold standard for blocking information by demanding $3.6 million—yes, $3.6 million—for an FOI request filed by Toronto Star newspaper asking details on work orders to find out how much tax payers’ money was spent on maintenance and construction projects in schools.

After condemnation from all quarters, the school board is now ‘working’ with the Star to release that information.

SODC, however, might not be so willing to work together.

Heather Dunham, the administrator at SODC, said the corporation has been operating since 2004, and had over 120 consultants work for it.

“The information that you have requested is extensive, and may even require more hours than I quoted,” she said.

“I am the only staff person at SODC, and would likely need to hire additional staff to complete your request and keep things moving at SODC during that time.”

Investigative journalist Sean Holman said it was ‘ridiculous’ for a city corporation to make such a demand.

“This appears to be either an indication of extremely poor record keeping or a substantive overestimate of how much time it will take to pull these documents,” Holman said.

Political commentator and Squamish Chief columnist Helmut Manzl condemned the demand made by SODC, and said it puts into question the election promises of openness and transparency.

He said two senior officials have been let go of the district, and there are all kinds of rumour swirling around town, but there is nary a word from the district.

“We are seeing the steady erosion of transparency and openness,” he said.

He called upon the SODC to release the information on consultant pay-outs as soon as possible.

“This is routine information, and the tax payers have every right to know about the pay-outs.”

Comments

  1. Larry Murray says:

    A sad state of affairs for a community that deserves so much more from their oceanfront asset.

  2. Wolfgang Wittenburg says:

    Surely, there must be some misunderstanding or mistake, Gagandeep: 87 hours of work to produce basic information?

    According to SODC’s audited financial statements for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2011, professional fees, which typically include accounting/ auditing, legal and other such administrative fees, are shown at $ 15,938 for 2011 and $ 70,370 for 2010. (Google Annual Report and Financial Statements for SODC to see for yourself). By that comparison alone, $ 4,500+ appears excessive for the information requested and even more so, when considering that audited financial statements are supported by detailed auditor’s working papers and client documentation for each line item in the financial statements (especially so for capitalized expenses, which would likely include some project-speficic consulting costs), all pointing directly to the relevant ledger accounts and source documents.

    SODC is not a huge corporation with an equally huge volume of documentation to sift through; it owns and administers essentially one large piece of real estate. Consequently it should be relatively easy for the auditors or SODC’s administrators to produce detailed information of the nature you requested at a significantly lower price tag, even when going back over several years of financial information. That there should be a price tag at all to obtain such information for the benefit of the tax paying public is an entirely different question.

    Frankly, as an accountant who has been working in public practice with emphasis on the real estate development field all my life, I am baffled by this.

  3. Riun Blackwell says:

    What a great example of the attitude of corporations and access to information afforded a public disclosure. Right in our own town!
    How wonderful that you are batting for us Gagandeep; no one else has stepped up to the plate it would seem.
    We’ve spent an auful lot and recieved so little. Not even an honest accounting of our significant expenditure is forthcoming it would seem.

  4. Don Patrick says:

    Do you negatives realize that the person that had the contract has first say in who gets the information under the act. No wonder it costs so much to do anything when those with little knowledge of the subject demand information that really makes no sense to them when recieved… just sit with your coffee buddies and think up some more conspiricy theories and complain about the cost of living. Makes me ill.

    • Wolfgang Wittenburg says:

      Your are of course right Don when stating that consultants and others who prepare studies or reports reserve the right to be consulted before their work is disseminated to third parties. According to Gagandeep’s piece, this is however not what he is asking for. I don’t see how a consultant could perceive a disadvantage by having his/her name published as being associated through a working relationship – past or present – with a government body such as the District. Most would be only too happy to boast about it in their list of clients anyway. Making public charge-out rates and total billing? Admittedly a bit more sensitive of a subject for a variety of reasons, but something a firm dealing with a public body should expect.

      I don’t quite understand why you feel the way you do, Don, about the Squamish Reporter wanting access to that information for public scrutiny.
      As a bonus, it could also be educational for the general public normally not involved in land banking or real estate development, to learn how large the various consulting costs loom in the soft costs of any project, but especially one as difficult as the Ocean Front Lands.

  5. Larry McLennan says:

    I guess the “free” part of the freedom of information isn’t really free. Do names have to be named? What about project, subject and cost? It is the taxpayers’ money . It seems that consultant studies/reports replace prior efforts ad nausium and the only thing that happens is a furthur descent into a financial abyss It would be interesting to know how many studies/reports have been done on essentially the same subject/issue. The core issue is responsible management of the public monies.

  6. Glenne Campbell says:

    Thank you Gagandeep for bringing this to our attention.
    wow . 87 hours to retrieve 120 accounts payable records. thats 1.37 hours per account.
    Maybe we should all chip in again and buy the SODC a computer and accounting program. seems they have slips of paper for records.
    You inspired me to look up Freedom of Information regulations in BC. http://www.oipc.bc.ca/legislation/FIPPA/Freedom_of_Information_and_Protection_of_Privacy_Act(April%202010).htm#section6
    Section 75 explains fee for services requested. Yes, fees can be charged , but not for the first three hours spent locating and retrieving a record and time spent severing information from a record.
    So …. put in 120 FOI’s and you’ll have a 1.7 hour credit per consultant!!!

  7. Janet says:

    Shame on the SODC for blocking such details. It certainly won’t take more than an hour to find out about these payments. What a shame !

  8. Elliot says:

    They cleaned house at District. Why not SODC? Can the same (few) directors on a public owned corp board really stay embedded in the process for so long with such a high level of blind trust? and now we witness the opposite of forthcoming effort to provide simple info to stakeholders?!
    So, if it’s not really necessary or beneficial for these same 3 or 4 directors to continue in perpetuity, I would say it is the duty of council to change the board (completely) at each stage of the project lifespan as a safeguard. My bet says that the list of consultants are mostly all ex-intrawest buddies, and they don’t want this known. Especially now because the “big daddy” of consulting contracts is coming when the Chinese purchaser/developer will take their advice when building a local development team… Oh you ex-intrawest boys are smart lads.

  9. Squamish says:

    Are you kidding me? What’s the problem? Do they need to hire a consultant to do this for them? This is (or should be) a very straight forward QUERY + PRINT (or export to Excel). Are they not maintaining records properly? I dont’ see the issue – other than bureaucratic smoke and mirrors in an attempt to avoid the truth. And the issue of privacy is a load of BS. Any consultant working for public sector is subject to freedom of information requests. The request is not for personal information – it is for vendor name, utilization and billed amount. I see no breach of privacy issues here at all.

  10. David says:

    This is an outrageous abuse of public trust. How can a little town like Squamish be infested with such corruption? The District has a responsibility to provide information to the taxpayers and should not be involved in a coverup! This stinks worse than the effluent from our treatment plant.