On April 6, 2021 I filed an FOI request re: CIBC’s investment reports from 2008 – 2020 to see how Haldimand County’s investments, which are invested privately, are performing, including how much taxpayers are paying in commissions to the bank.

Under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act  the county had 90 days to respond.  After this period had passed I wrote an email to Council & Senior County Staff requesting council to release these documents, however there were no direct responses.

I received two emails from staff, one in the Clerk’s department and the other from Cathy Case (who doesn’t work in the Clerk’s division…) explaining the reasons why the county was having difficulty with my request (Staff issues).

On day 97, the county issued its response denying my application for these documents.  That resulted in my spending $25 for an appeal that I expect will be resolved this week, based on past experience. 

I feel the emails explain my frustration with the county’s FOI policy, which appears to be to accept payment, wait 90 days, then refuse all requests.  Force the applicant to appeal, win the appeal, then wait another 90 days for the county to either comply or file their own appeal…

(Mayor) Ken Hewitt is a financial planner, who seems to be managing the county’s investments in a manner consistent with a money manager rather than a mayor.

Haldimand County Hydro’s audited financial statements were published on the HCH website and could be viewed by the public for free.  They were transparent. 

In 2016 buried in the Treasurer’s Investment Summary report was a recommendation that created an “Investment Committee” which has only 4 members … The mayor, CAO, CFO and Treasurer … 3 members of staff and one elected financial planner.  No one else on council has seen CIBC’s investment reports and therefore the only person in the county who will speak about it is the mayor.

Since the pandemic the mayor has been quiet on the subject, except to boast our credit rating has improved.  Since a large amount of recently borrowed money is also being invested, my two questions seem reasonable.  How are our investments doing?  And how much is it costing us? (in commissions?).

Prior to Evelyn Eichenbaum becoming Clerk in 2011, the county’s policy re: FOI request was to provide information on a ASAP basis.  Now there is no transparency, which is surprising since, in 2019, the county had $177 million invested, and only the mayor, a private financial planner, knows how well we did.

On Monday July 19 at 10:14am, I forwarded the following to all six councillors, mayor Ken Hewitt and staff members Evelyn Eichenbaum and Craig Manley.

Just writing to inform you it is now day 104 of my wait for public records requested under the MFOI legislation.  On Friday I mailed (snail mail) my $25 cheque to the Information and Privacy Commission and expect to hear from that office this week.

Quick comparison:

Under Marie Trainer and her Clerk, Janice Lankester, I made 3 FOI requests between 2006 – 2010.  Average cost per request was $5, average length of time before receiving documents requested 5 days (via regular mail), number of initial refusals of FOI requests zero.

Hewitt & Eichenbaum:  4 requests, average cost per request $30, average length of time before receipt of documents 190 days, number of initial refusals 4/4.  # of successful appeals 2/3 (the one unsuccessful request is due to the fact the County claims the documents requested had been destroyed, and the IPC decided it could not order the County to turn over non-existent materials).  As a percentage that is a 100% refusal rate for documents requested under FOI.

Tim Horton’s:  Number of times I was refused service zero, number of times I was asked to wait more than 5 minutes – zero. 

If the county is truly committed to transparency and public service, having me pay $5 then forcing me to wait at least 90 days before refusing FOI requests, then forcing a $25 additional appeal fee, AND waiting 90 days after being ORDERED by the IPC to turn over documents …  If the Corporation of Haldimand County was a private company, it would be bankrupt.

Re: FOI coordinator position.  My FOI request was listed as number 8.  In the first 3 months of 2021, the county only received (if you include my April request in that period) 8.  That suggests the county only receives at most 30 – 40 FOI requests all year.  Well less than one per week.  I hardly think this justifies a full-time FOI coordinator position in the Clerk’s division.  Just in case you’re looking for ways to save money…

I have received copies of the 2014, 2015 and 2016 treasurer’s investment summary reports.  However, the amount Haldimand County paid in commissions on money invested is not included in these reports, information I specifically requested as part of my research into the operations of Haldimand County for a book I am writing on our local government.  Nor is the actual amounts received on those PPN’s which can range from 0 – 6.5%.  The total range of documents requested was from 2008 – 2020.

To Craig Manley and Evelyn Eichenbaum, I am formally requesting to be a delegate to speak on the subject of Transparency at the August 24, 2021 Council in Committee meeting.  I may need to make arrangements should the meeting be conducted electronically.

Given the enormity of the sums involved, $177 million in 2019, does it make sense that only 4 people have seen the documents requested and only one, the mayor, is allowed to speak about it? Transparency matters.

Rob Duncan