As if to underscore the point, one of the few sections not deemed a secret in the termination agreement that would allow the City of Penticton to cut ties with Trio Marine Group comes under the heading: Confidentiality and Publicity.
The eight-page pact is an appendix to the settlement agreement the city negotiated with Trio last year to scale back the company’s controversial plan for waterslides in Skaha Lake Park in favour of a concession stand and possibly an aquatic play structure.
A copy of the termination agreement released to The Herald this week in response to a freedom of information request is heavily redacted, ostensibly to protect third-party business interests.
But the city also signed off on a separate confidentiality clause inside the termination agreement itself in which both parties agree not to disclose the terms or conditions unless required by law or by a court or government agency.
Confidentiality can also be broken in order to provide information to consultants, investors, auditors, financial advisors and other such professionals.
The only group seemingly left out is the public, observed Dermod Travis, executive director of watchdog group IntegrityBC.
“Taxpayers have a right to know the possible financial penalties that council is exposing them to. At the end of the day, it’s their money on the table,” he said.
“When the B.C government is looking at ways to proactively release contracts, Penticton shouldn’t be taking a step backward by trying to hide their decisions — and possibly taxpayers’ money – behind black, redacted boxes.”
The most heavily redacted sections of the termination agreement appear to deal with the conditions that would have to be met in order for the city to end its relationship with Trio.
It explains both parties will make “equal financial contributions” to (redacted).
And if (redacted) “then Penticton shall have a right to terminate the enhanced marina agreement and the settlement agreement.”
It goes to note the deals will be torn up “following a payment of the sum specified” in another redacted section.
That sum is listed as $200,000 in the main settlement agreement that was previously shown to the public, so it’s unclear if the termination agreement contains a different figure.
The termination agreement was signed Dec. 22 on the city’s behalf by Mayor Andrew Jakubeit and corporate officer Dana Schmidt, and by Tom Dyas and Tom Hedquist on behalf of Trio.
In a letter to The Herald accompanying the redacted termination agreement, Schmidt said she relied on a section of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that requires public bodies to withhold anything that could be harmful to third-party business interests if disclosed.
New city manager Peter Weeber said in a statement he stands by Schmidt’s decision, because she applied FOIPPA correctly and it protects Trio’s and the city’s financial interests as required by law.
“In this case, there is ongoing litigation related to this project and the release of the information could harm the city’s economic interest – which includes the economic interests of the residents of Penticton,” he explained.
“I understand the optics of a redacted document but there are times when we have to withhold information to protect the integrity of an ongoing project or process. Council has been clear that all information that can be released will be released.”
Weeber, who only started Jan. 3, declined to “second guess the decisions of past managers,” but said he “will take full responsibility for this project moving forward.”
The Herald has asked the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C. to review the city’s decision.