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posted September 13, 2005
City: Spending and Controls
An early look at $10M city Cinergy contract

An early look: The city is paying a company named Cinergy over $10M to reduce energy use in rinkhouses. We have some serious concerns about this, because if it doesn't work, the money is coming out of the Parks and Rec operating budget. And guess who gets to say whether it's working: Cinergy. Read an early review of this, written by our own CELOS group.

posted August 10, 2005
City: Management and Planning
Jutta's Parks Restructuring Diary:
Parks and Rec New Functional Management Approach

Parks and Recreation is about to put into place a new structure that we think puts an end to the idea that a park is first and foremost a neighbourhood meeting place. Instead, there will be what they call a "functional approach," taking apart all the elements of a park and managing each separate element centrally. As the "functional approach" begins to take over, we'll keep a diary of the difficulties the new centralized structure creates (we have asked the General Manager to please exempt Dufferin Grove Park [ed. see An Open Letter to Brenda Librecz, the General Manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation] but no response yet).

Read the Diary >>

posted August 9, 2005
City: Spending and Controls

Playground injury claims against the city over 25 years: $35,033 total. Cost of CSA-inspired "safety improvements" to city playgrounds: $5.9 Million (though the city can't account for it). Here's the latest story:

On August 12, 2004, our research group submitted a question to the City of Toronto’s Corporate Access to Information office: how much did the City spend on lawsuits or out-of-court settlements for injuries on city property, from 1980 to the present? We had a good reason for asking: we were wondering why the City spent $5.9 million removing playground equipment from City parks (or sometimes whole playgrounds), often replacing it with cheap "dumbed-down" equipment (or nothing at all). They pointed to the latest safety standards put out by manufacturers, but since those standards are not law, we thought there must be additional reasons. Were there maybe a lot of kids getting hurt in park playgrounds, and the City was having to pay?

The City didn’t respond to our question, so in November 2004 we appealed to the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner’s office. They told the City to send us an answer.

We were sent whatever pre-amalgamation information they had, but none since 1997 (the playground destruction began in 2000). The pre-amalgamation results showed only one playground injury claim, for $23,570, between 1980 to 1996. (The most numerous claims and biggest settlements against Parks and Recreation were related to City vehicle accidents.) Since the City wouldn’t give us the rest of the information up to the present, we appealed again to the Province, in January 2005. On March 31 the City’s Claims Division said we’d have to pay $1,050 to get the post-amalgamation injury claim reports. We appealed the fee, and the wheels were set in motion for a provincial adjudicator to consider the issue. Then on May 9 a letter came from the City of Toronto Finance Division’s "Risk Management Unit" saying there was now a new reason why they wouldn’t give us the information – because it would be against the City’s economic interests.

"Snakes and ladders" again [ed. see snakes and ladders on this page]. Since the City changed its reason for denying us the information, the rules of the Information and Privacy Commission required us start with the appeal again, from the beginning. Discouraging.

But then there was a sudden upturn in our fortunes. CBC radio had asked the City the same question, but on a larger scale – they wanted a record of the amounts of all lawsuits and claims (not only those related to playgrounds) since amalgamation. The City gave the CBC the same answer as we got "we won’t tell you, because it’s against our economic interests." The CBC appealed to the province and they got right to the top. The province’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian personally handled the appeal. On July 22 she ordered the City to release the lawsuits and claims information. She wrote in her appeal order (press release, original order): "Citizens cannot participate meaningfully in the democratic process, and hold politicians and bureaucrats accountable, unless they have access to information held by the government, subject only to necessary exemptions that are limited and specific."

A few days later we got a letter in the mail from the City giving us the information we had sought since August 2004. It turns out that in the seven years since the playground safety standards were revised, there have been only six claims against the city for playground injuries (two before the playground changes and four after). The largest settlement was $4,361 and the smallest was $667, for a total of $11,463. (Broken arms?)

And then there was the playground injury claim in 1994 (see above). When you add them all together, it seems that the City’s Claims Division could find only seven playground injury claims in twenty-five years, costing the City of Toronto a total of $35,033. In response, our park playgrounds were drastically dumbed down, at a cost of at least $5.9 million (but much of that undocumented).

How could that happen? Our CELOS research group is digging around to find out. More in the September newsletter.

posted August 6, 2005
City: Access to Information: CELOS analysis leads to further information requests regarding playgrounds:
Analysis of CELOS’S Appeal with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner

[An excerpt from the CELOS analysis:]

Discussion: It was obviously disappointing to us that we lost our appeal. [Ed. see Adjudicator Caddigan's ruling] On the other hand, the City’s position – that they can’t say where they spent $4.3 million playground repair funds because they don’t have a record – put them in the unenviable position of having to demonstrate that they don’t keep their books properly.

This argument was made in some detail and we asked for the recording afterwards, so we could go over some of the City staff’s and lawyers’ points. Unfortunately, the Information and Privacy Commission’s recording equipment was defective, and their tapes were mostly blank. On the basis of our notes, though, we have now submitted some new Access to Information requests to the City.

But if the City still seems reluctant, before we start a new round of appeals we have another idea. That's because, when Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian recently admonished the City bureaucracy to stop being so secretive [Ed. see press release, ruling, newspaper reports], Toronto Mayor David Miller applauded her order.

"Mayor David Miller has responded positively by saying Toronto's departments should routinely release information needed by the public. He also noted the city recently appointed a new director of corporate access and privacy to help make that happen." Jul 27/05 Lift city hall's veil of secrecy. Toronto Star

The new director is Suzanne Craig. Before we file many more information requests, we’ll ask her if she can meet with us. Perhaps she can use her influence to persuade the City staff that they can answer our questions directly. So much time and also money can be saved if we don’t have to take our simple, commonsense questions all the way up through formal procedures with lawyers and adjudicators.

As Commissioner Cavoukian wrote in her recent order against the City of Toronto: "Citizens cannot participate meaningfully in the democratic process, and hold politicians and bureaucrats accountable, unless they have access to information held by the government."

Read the complete CELOS analysis document.