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Non-disclosure policy just trash: councillors

Administration still won't disclose Emterra fines

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Winnipeg city councillors are pushing back against the public administration's refusal to disclose how much the city has fined Emterra for poor garbage and recycling pickup.

Coun. Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) said Wednesday she plans to send a letter to Winnipeg chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl and chief financial officer Mike Ruta asking to show her where it is written that elected officials are not to be privy to this information.

Havixbeck said there are still stretches of major streets in her ward where the trash and recyclables are not picked up on time.

Havixbeck said she initially asked city administrators for the total amount of fines levied against Emterra for poor service in early November after her office was inundated with complaints. She was told the same thing as the mayor and other members of council who have asked for the information -- the fines are confidential as they could be harmful to Emterra's business interests.

Winnipeg's operating budget will be tabled next week, and Havixbeck said withholding the information could impact policy decisions, particularly if there are significant fines the city needs to collect.

"It's ridiculous," Havixbeck said. "How much is there and if they haven't collected (the fines), why not? I think we as representatives of the taxpayer deserve to know."

Havixbeck is the latest member of council to push for more information on Winnipeg's garbage and recycling contract. Coun. Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) complained last week that elected officials are "in the dark" and cannot assess Emterra's performance. Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt said it was "unacceptable" to refuse access to this information.

"There should be no reason not to release that information if you're telling us how much the fines are," Wyatt said.

"That's a bunch of baloney."

Emterra began collecting garbage and recycling in the former AutoBin areas on Aug. 1, before expanding the program city-wide to 165,000 households on Oct 1. The city has since levied penalties against the company, though officials won't disclose the amount of fines or reveal how the fine amounts were determined.

City officials have only said Emterra will be fined for things such as missed pickups, carts lost during collection, emptying garbage into recycling vehicles and emptying recyclables into garbage vehicles. Emterra could be penalized between $100 and $500, depending on the nature and frequency of service deficiency, and penalties will be deducted from the contractor's monthly payment.

Barb D'Avignon, the city's manager of materials, said every contract the city tenders stipulates what the City of Winnipeg can disclose. In Emterra's case, D'Avignon said the document states the city can disclose the contract amount and the name of the successful bidder.

It does not say the city will disclose penalties levied against Emterra, she said, which is why the city does not release the information.

D'Avignon said penalties are common in contracts and the city fines snow-removal contractors and construction companies for poor service, though this information is rarely requested by members of council. She said only a few people, including the contract administrator and the CAO, can find out how much a company has been penalized.

"We only disclose information to those who need to know," D'Avignon said.

Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie said his assistant, Aaron McDowell, filed a freedom-of-information request in an attempt to find out the amount of fines charged to Emterra since September.

The city refused to disclose the information, and Eadie said his office will challenge that decision through Manitoba's ombudsman.

Eadie said 311 service data show there are fewer reports of missed garbage and recycling pickups than a few months ago, but the contractor is still missing many areas within his ward. He said some residents likely don't bother calling to report problems anymore, and he is not confident Emterra is being fined.

"The answer is ridiculous," Eadie said. "This is becoming a fight between elected people and the city bureaucracy."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 3, 2013 B2

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