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Councillor turns to FOI for airport information

Sep 29, 2009

After 15 months of waiting, Brad Clark is turning to the freedom of information process to provide the public with audits of the city’s lease with the private company running the airport. A report on the issue, originally requested in June 2008, was put off last week until at least December.

An annual compliance audit and performance review is filed by Tradeport International Corporation to justify the amount of rent paid each year by the company for lease of the airport.  The reviews are not made public under terms of the lease agreement – a contractual arrangement which also remains partly secret.

When councillors received a copy of the 2007 review, Clark persuaded his colleagues on the economic development and planning committee that releasing it would help respond to public criticism that the rental payments were too low.

“I’ve read through this report and I’m scratching my head as to why it has to remain confidential,” Clark declared at the June 17, 2008 committee meeting.

“My suggestion would simply be that you have our lawyers meet with the company and they can indicate what parts of this they believe is third party exempt under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and it can be severed out and everything else can be made public, because there’s a lot of good stuff in here indicating that they are in full compliance.”

Councillors agreed to direct city legal staff to meet with Tradeport “and advise them that we are willing to sever out any portions that would be third party or proprietary interest and therefore would be exempted from the release to the public.”

In March of this year, the head of economic development, Neil Everson, reported that “Tradeport’s legal counsel is still in deliberations on this” and that a resolution could be expected by July. A new deadline for the staff report was set for September 22, but last week that was pushed off until December 1.

“I’m growing almost despondent on this particular file,” responded Clark to the extension. “I need to understand why it’s taking so long to get something that’s really in my mind not that difficult an issue.”

The general manager of economic development and planning said he didn’t have an answer.

“Every time we get a hold of [the] legal [department], they say that they’re still in conversations with Tradeport and they’re not ready to report back to the committee,” stated Tim McCabe. “And I told Mr Barkwell [the city solicitor] of the committee’s frustration on this date, and again they said they’re not ready, and to put the date at the end of the year.”

The postponement was approved by the committee, but Clark refused to support it.

“I think at this point in time I’m simply going to file a freedom of information request, because this is unacceptable,” he declared. “This should have been done a long time ago. This should not have been this difficult. Actually, there’s been another report issued. So there are now two of them, and they still aren’t public.”

Tradeport paid rent of $84,344 in 2006, $161,855 in 2007, and $183,617 last year. It reported net income of nearly $2.9 million in 2008. It paid combined dividends of over $9 million for 2006 and 2007, but that dropped to zero last year.

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