The latest amendment to Penticton’s Fees and Charges Bylaw introduces a new fee for freedom of information requests along with a laundry list of price increases for city services.
The new list of charges includes a minimum $20 charge for commercial requests, with an unlimited maximum of “actual costs.” What qualifies as commercial isn’t clearly defined, but includes media outlets requesting information in the public interest.
“A commercial FOI request is one that is submitted by a commercial company. Insurance companies would sometimes FOI us, lawyers FOI us,” said corporate officer Dana Schmidt, when asked to define commercial. As she finished, Mayor Andrew Jakubeit chimed in to add “the media” to her list.
The Freedom of Information and Privacy Act specifies what kind of charges can be applied to FOI requests and, according to Schmidt, allows the city to charge actual costs for commercial requests.
“If you are being paid to write a story for a newspaper that is commercial,” said Schmidt, who admitted that the term commercial is not defined in the FOIPA, but stuck to her assertion that a newspaper acting in the public interest was still commercial.
“I think media are considered commercial by more people than me,” said Schmidt.
The act does allow charges, after the first three hours spent locating and retrieving a record. A waiver of any charges, however, can be requested in the case of matters of public interest.
“In fairness some FOI requests are quite extensive, everyone thinks we have this magic computer that you just type in a keyword and out comes this massive report and here you go,” said Jakubeit. “It is at times very manual to cross reference and find whatever the scope of the request is.
“To be able to recoup some of that is a very valid thing to charge for.”
The matter is expected to be revisited at the next council meeting, with the support of Coun. Helena Konanz, along with clarification of other items included in the list of new charges.