Virtually every word of a 60-page report on a possible conflict of interest involving former city CAO Andy Laidlaw has been blanked out under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Earlier this month, the Campbell River Mirror issued a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to see the report produced by lawyer Richard Grounds for the City of Campbell River last fall, three months before Laidlaw and the city announced the retirement of the top employee at city hall.
The investigation centred around Laidlaw’s business relationship with a consulting firm, Jerry Berry Consultants Inc., which provided services to the City of Campbell River. The investigation was to look at whether Laidlaw was paid for services he provided to Jerry Berry in circumstances where he had a role in awarding city contracts to Jerry Berry Consultants Inc. Former Mayor Walter Jakeway said the investigation report was delivered to him and his council for a brief look at a meeting after last November’s civic election but because the newly-elected mayor and council was taking office shortly afterwards, the report was taken back from the “lame duck” council to be given to the new one.
“The previous council saw it for one hour (in) the two weeks between the election and the new council taking office,” Jakeway said.
No action taken as a result of Grounds’ report has been made public. However, in January, the city announced Laidlaw was retiring from his nearly four-year job as Campbell River Chief Administrative Officer. He went on his way with the full endorsement of the present mayor and council.
“Andy did a great job here,” Mayor Andy Adams told the Mirror in July. “We were extremely fortunate to have someone of Andy’s calibre.”
City Clerk Peter Wipper is the official at city hall who handles FOI and privacy requests for access to records. Wipper complied with the Mirror’s request this week sending a copy of the report with virtually all of it blanked out because it dealt with personal information relating to employment history and would be an unreasonable invasion of a third party’s personal privacy. Not even the Table of Contents is visible.
Section 22 (3)(d) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act states:
“22. (1) The head of a public body must refuse to disclose personal information to an applicant if the disclosure would be an unreasonable invasion of a third party’s personal privacy;
“(3) A disclosure of personal information is presumed to be an unreasonable invasion of
a third party’s personal privacy if
“(d) the personal information relates to employment, occupational or educational history.”
The highly redacted (edited) report was sent digitally to the Mirror in PDF form Wednesday after $13.50 was paid. A printed form of the report would have cost substantially more.
The only information left in the report is a few lines under the heading “iii. Investigative Steps” which says that 11 witnesses, including 10 from the City of Campbell River, were interviewed as part of the investigation. A list of witnesses interviewed is contained in Appendix B to the investigative report but that appendix is completely redacted as well.
In addition, the Mirror’s FOI request sought any emails or correspondence between Campbell River Mayor and Council and Andy Laidlaw regarding Grounds’ investigation and report as well as minutes of council meetings discussing actions to be taken arising from Grounds’ report.
That part of the Mirror FOI request has not been completed but Deputy City Clerk Tracy Bate estimates that it will cost approximately $75 to $100 to prepare.
“However, I expect that very little can be released,” Bate said in a letter to the Mirror accompanying the Grounds report FOI response this week.
So, the citizens of Campbell River are no further informed about what this matter involved and what was the result of it.
When contacted by the Mirror in July, Laidlaw acknowledged that there was an investigation by Grounds but “any error on my part was minor and inadvertent and certainly did not cause any harm to the city.”
However, the city told no one about the investigation nor the result of it. It only came to light after a Victoria magazine investigated Laidlaw’s role in a controversy in the District of Saanich involving spyware being installed on the computer used by that municipality’s mayor, Richard Atwell.
Laidlaw is working in Saanich on a contract basis and was called upon to investigate that controversy.
The Mirror now has the option to request a review of our application by the provincial Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner which we will be doing.