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City ordered to disclose Confidential Employment Agreement for phantom 'Corporate Advisor'

'As much as the city clearly doesn’t believe in transparency, the privacy commissioner is there to look out for the little guys'
20180822 north bay city hall  turl 2017
North Bay City Hall

Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner has ordered the City of North Bay to disclose the Confidential Employment Agreement it signed with its former 'Corporate Advisor.'

That advisor is named in the Province's Sunshine List as former CAO Jerry Knox.

See: Knox resigned in June, still ranked second on Sunshine List in 2016

Also: Plenty of area employees on provincial Sunshine big surprise!

Knox remained on the Sunshine List for 2016 and 2017, paid almost $204,000 per year for a job that apparently does not exist at City Hall.

Both Mayor Al McDonald and current CAO Keith Robicheau have previously refused to comment on the mystery, citing privacy and personnel issues.

That prompted a private citizen, Kevin Ferris to file a request under Freedom of Information "for all records relating to the job description, powers, duties of position of ‘Corporate Advisor’ and/or ‘Corporate Adviser’ including initial job advertisement/posting/offering.”

But the City resisted, coming up with just a single document, an employment agreement, then denying Ferris access to the record in full, citing privacy concerns.

The City also told Ferris no records exist relating to the initial job advertisement/posting/offering portion of the request.

Ferris appealed that decision and the issue went to mediation, where he confirmed his interest in pursuing access to the employment agreement.

Read the full report here.

He argued that records should exist, such as a job description, the job advertisement/posting/offering and memos or emails between staff leading to the creation of the agreement. As a result, "reasonable search" was added as an issue to the appeal. Ferris also raised the issue of "the public interest" overriding the City's concerns.

The City responded saying no additional responsive records existed.

The appeal was not resolved at mediation and so went to adjudicator Justine Wai, who wrote, "I find the public interest override in section 16  applies to the salary information and order the city to disclose the entire record to the appellant. Finally, I find the city did not conduct a reasonable search for responsive records and order it to conduct another search."

Wai ordered the city to disclose the Confidential Employment Agreement to Ferris by December 11, 2018 but not before December 6, 2018 and ordered the City to conduct a further search for documents. The City must now provide the adjudicator with an affidavit sworn by the individuals who conducted the searches describing the search efforts. 

Ferris is pleased by the interim order.

"As much as the city clearly doesn’t believe in transparency, the privacy commissioner is there to look out for the little guys. The city has fought me every step of the way here for over a year.  

"The city’s own representation is that staff entered into this agreement at the direction of council. I think the entire prior council has a lot to answer for here especially mayor Al McDonald. The mayor has previously stated to me on Cogeco he had no involvement with this. 

"It’s a bit alarming that the adjudicator called the city out for an improperly conducted search at the beginning of this FOI."

Ferris adds that he's looking forward to the results of the new search that the adjudicator has requested, and the release of the one record that was found initially. 

In a statement to BayToday this morning, McDonald said, "The recent communications from the IPC is presently being reviewed by legal services. I do not comment on matters legal or personnel.

"At the end of the day, whatever they decide to do we will obviously comply with whatever the order is, but it is being reviewed by our legal services and we are not part of that process as elected members."

Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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