Senior Council staff are defending their handling of a request for information relating to the Byron bypass project, after being accused of making up the process as they go.
A freedom of information request from John Lazarus on behalf of the Byron Environment Centre (BEC), and former mayor and NSW MLC Jan Barham was refined after staff replied that to execute, it would cost over $20,000 back in October.
A freedom of information request is known as a GIPA, which stands for the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009.
The GIPA from Lazarus and Barham originally sought ‘copies of all documents held by Byron Shire Council, including but not limited to letters, emails, briefing notes, file notes, and agendas of meetings, minutes of meetings, maps and diagrams dated between 1 July 2014 and 1 November 2017.’
The Echo asked senior staff if the claims were correct, and that despite funds being accepted for the GIPA request, staff were unwilling to accept the request as it was from co-applicants.
The Echo asked, ‘How is this not redefining the processes?’
‘Why are Council staff making it difficult for the public to be informed of its operation?’
Council’s legal services Ralph James replied, ‘The original GIPA application, to which Ms Barham was co-signatory, was extremely broad.
New application, say senior staff
‘In discussion with Mr Lazarus, the terms were revised and narrowed. This then turned it into a new application and Mr Lazarus alone signed the form and paid for it.
‘As he was the only signatory to the application Council responded to him’.
Yet Ms Barham maintains that when the revised scope was accepted by staff, she was included in the correspondence.
‘There was no new [GIPA] application and the co-applicants didn’t change’.
She added this decision ‘just defies good governance and commonsense.’
Senior Council staff told Lazarus on October 22 via email, ‘The revised cost to provide this information will be $4,722.50.
‘This application satisfies the criteria of being a special interest to the public.
‘As such, a 50 per cent discount on the fee is available. The total cost is thus reduced, to be $2,361.25.
‘Please note the amount payable to commence the retrieval is still $2,361.25 but there would be no final payment required’.