Mayor Hope was sent the following MFIPPA request via private email. He did not ever supply a response. However, we are advised that within 24 hours of receipt by the mayor, its contents were known by several unelected private individuals who have no business reading the mayor's private mail.
There seems to be a problem when the mayor refuses to answer a request as mandated by law, but finds the need to allow others to read his mail in violation of council's Code of Ethics. This is not the first time confidential correspondence to council has made the rounds for scurrilous purposes. We'd also like to know who is doing his responses for him.
The concern behind this letter to Mayor Hope was a recent situation in which confidential Chatham-Kent Hydro documents were requested from the municipality via the MFIPPA. The municipality sent a letter delegating the response to Chatham-Kent Hydro, which then assembled the requested private account details, and forwarded a copy to Mayor Hope's office without the knowledge nor permission of the applicant.
Nowhere in municipal Privacy or MFIPPA policies was the fact disclosed that the mayor would receive copies. Further inquiry revealed that this situation was established by mayor Hope, who did not even declare a conflict of interest when it went before council. Every MFIPPA request and response crosses his desk without the applicant knowing in advance.
Unfortunately, evidence suggests mayor Hope may have distributed the contents of the applicant's PUC account information to his acquaintances in much the same way other correspondence has surreptitiously left his office. A Chatham Daily News reporter somehow obtained knowledge of the private information contained in the MFIPPA reply.
----- Original Message -----
From: Austin Wright
To: CKmayor @chatham-kent.ca
Sent: Tuesday, November 20, 2007 2:58 PM
Subject: MFIPPA Questions
PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL
Dear Mayor Hope:
I understand that a by-law was passed in July that made you the Head of the Municipal Corporation for the MFIPPA.
Would you be so kind as to answer some questions and clear up my understanding about your role in this position?
The MFIPPA states that all requests will be made through the Head. However, it seems that Elinor Mifflin, in her capacity as clerk and coordinator is still the municipal contact person for these requests. All requests and responses seem to be directed through her office. What exactly is your role other than receiving copies of everything? Why change things now?
With regards to the above Section, when an MFIPPA request is forwarded to the other institution that has custody or control of the record, why is the response also being returned to the original institution? The Act makes no mention of this back-and-forth transfer being a requirement. Please explain why the above Section 25 has been interpreted and implemented in policy that the response to the forwarded request must also be distributed back to the source of the inquiry when the applicant has received a reply directly from the responding institution. Section 25 seems to delegate the rest of the response sequence to the institution holding the record.
The Act states that the Head shall make the inquiries to determine if another institution holds the record. This sounds like quite a burden with so many other things demanding the mayor's attention. Do you routinely handle these MFIPPA requests or is Elinor still performing this function? If she is, then why was it necessary to appoint a new Head if you aren't fulfilling the function described under the Act anyway?
This title apparently enables the mayor to personally scrutinize all MFIPPA requests, and receive copies of the response, thus politicizing the freedom of information process. Besides being a rather slippery slope, some municipal responses may be subject to other federal and provincial Privacy Acts which provide strict limits on how private information is distributed. However, copies of such information also seem to be sent to the mayor's office without prior notification to the affected applicant. What safeguards and protocols are in place to ensure that private information that is not governed by the MFIPPA is not inadvertently forwarded and divulged to the mayor's office and viewed by others in violation of applicable privacy laws?
What happens to information requests when the information is supposed to be freely available without an MFIPPA request? Are these still treated as if they fall under the purview of MFIPPA inquiries?
How are MFIPPA applicants informed that other people will receive copies of requested information?
If Elinor Mifflin is still handling all MFIPPA requests as the municipal Freedom of Information Coordinator, suggesting that the mayor is simply acting as a figurehead, why are copies of everything even forwarded to the mayor's office? Isn't the role of Mayor/CEO already demanding enough without having to read what everyone else is up to?
To whom should I send my future MFIPPA requests?
Given the authority this by-law seems to impart upon the mayor, the unprecedented access this role provides to confidential information, and the ability to monitor the inquiries and responses of those who may be political opponents, why did you not declare a conflict of interest when this matter went before council?
Kindly provide a detailed response to my listed concerns. Make sure you describe how this change will benefit the citizens of Chatham-Kent, and explain any operational advantages that this change provides over the old system.