City of Penticton not showing its tab for legal fees

The City of Penticton is holding firm on its refusal to inform the public of how much the legal battle over Skaha Lake is costing taxpayers.

The City of Penticton is holding firm on its refusal to inform the public of how much the legal battle over Skaha Lake Park is costing taxpayers.

“The release of legal costs discloses the legal strategy of the city; which may harm the city’s legal position,” wrote Mayor Andrew Jakubeit in an email.

Read more: City revises Skaha Lake Park agreements

At their Nov. 1 regular council meeting, Jakubeit agreed to release the tally of legal costs incurred so far as the city deals with two civil suits over their leasing of Skaha Lake Park, while negotiating with Trio Marine Group to come to a new agreement.

The city, however, has so far refused to disclose the legal costs.

“We are not hiding information and will disclose the full accounting of legal costs incurred; however it will be when the active files are no longer active,” wrote Jakubeit, referring to the civil suits.

According to Jakubeit, other members of council were not consulted on the decision to withhold the legal costs from the public. He said they received advice from their solicitor regarding the release of legal billings and how that might jeopardize the city’s legal strategy.

“This was a discussion with myself, our solicitor, and members of our management team. It was then reported out to council,” wrote Jakubeit.

Corporate officer Dana Schmidt referenced Section 14 of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act as grounds for refusing to inform the public of the costs.

The Western News argued that section deals with solicitor client privilege related to legal advice and documents — as well as that releasing the legal costs would be in the public interest, so taxpayers would have a full understanding of the ongoing cost of the Skaha Lake Park controversy.

Schmidt replied with a decision from another FOI adjudication, where the Herald attempted to obtain the cost of the defamation suit the city started, then dropped, against Elvena Slump.

Read more: City of Penticton likely not going to pursue legal action

Elizabeth Barker, Senior Adjudicator with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner said in her decision that “the existence of the fact consisting of the bill of account and its payment arises out of the solicitor-client relationship and of what transpires within it,” and can therefore be considered privileged information.

Jakubeit denied that releasing the costs would be in the public interest, a specific aspect of FOIPPA that trumps other considerations.

“I can appreciate that people are curious about legal costs,” wrote Jakubeit. “I would argue that it is against taxpayer interest to disclose information that puts the city at a disadvantage in an ongoing legal scenario.”

Jakubeit said the city is firm on its decision that until the legal issues are resolved it would not be appropriate to release the legal costs.