MODG fights back on salary info request

By Helen Murphy    
December 14 2016

GUYSBOROUGH – The Municipality of the District of Guysborough is getting behind its employees in fighting a Freedom of Information request for salary information. In response to the request from a resident, MODG surveyed staff in its municipal offices, as well as its nursing homes in Guysborough and Canso to see if they consented to salary information being released.

“We will fight this because we had 100 per cent of our staff tell us they do not want this personal information released,” Warden Vernon Pitts told The Journal during an interview Monday. “We are willing to go the extra mile.”

That extra mile involves municipal resources in time and money.

“This is going to cost some money and it’s money that should be spent elsewhere on something constructive, not destructive,” said Pitts. “And it’s a cost in staff time. They could be doing something more constructive; something they are supposed to be doing.”

Susanne Roy confirmed to The Journal that she made the request for salary information through through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPOP). She said the data the municipality gave to her in response to an earlier request for five years of expense claims showed “there was enough questionable activity to have the Ombudsman’s Office open an investigation.”

In response to the salaries request, council released the job categories, salary ranges for each job category, the number of employees in each job category, the total amount of overtime in each category, and a copy of the employee benefits policy.

According to a statement posted to MODG’s website, this response was appealed.

“The council has agreed to provide all of the required information in totality. Total salaries, job classifications, benefit information, etc., but not specific individual information. Most would think that that would satisfy the information wants of any taxpaying resident but not in this case,” the statement says.

“Does the person receiving it intend to distribute it to other parties, provide it to media outlets, post it on social media platforms including but not limited to Facebook, to demean or shame an individual employee and their family through the public dissemination of the information, or for other purposes that the person requesting the information deems appropriate?” MODG asks.

“Council has decided to stand firmly with their employees and will fight this every step of the way to not release the individual information.”

The warden also questions how the information would be used by the resident making the request. “If information was released it should be released to someone who knows how to interpret it. Laws are needed in this area. I don’t expect we are the only municipality facing this in Nova Scotia or in Canada -- and we won’t be the last.”

Pitts said MODG is very transparent and has solid financial management, which was reinforced by a positive auditor’s report earlier this year.

“What are we doing wrong here?” asks Pitts. “We just went to the people in October (election). We were all returned.”

Pitts said he feels MODG has a good case in fighting the FOIPOP request. “Most certainly. If we didn’t think we had a good case we wouldn’t be going down that road.”

As part of the continuing Ombudsman’s Office investigation into municipal finances, some MODG staff were recently interviewed. The municipality has been pushing for the Ombudsman’s Office to release its findings and “put this to rest,” said Pitts.

“This isn’t doing any of us any I good,” he said. “Not council, not staff, not the community.”