It’s been two weeks since “Friends of Kingston” have been able to peruse KEDCO documents they requested through a Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) request.
Global News has spoken to representatives from the community group, who spoke in their first interview since Donna Gillespie, CEO of Kingston Economic Development (KED), revealed the documents were finally ready to be handed over on July 25.
Friends of Kingston originally filed the request with KED in 2016, asking for documents from the organization’s previous iteration, KEDCO, between the years of 2010 and 2015. The process took several years, and over $10,000 to complete — with Friends of Kingston footing the bill for over $7,000 of the costs.
Nadine Lollar, president of Friends of Kingston, said she was initially excited to get her hands on the long-awaited files, but skeptical that everything they requested would be delivered.
“Not everything is in there,” Lollar said on Friday, sitting next to several half-empty boxes.
“Just a cursory review of the documents show that some are missing,” said Ewen MacKinnon, a local businessman and a member of Friends of Kingston.
Specifically, Lollar says supporting documents, like itemized receipts, were missing from the boxes given to them on July 26.
“It was part of what they were ordered to turn over to us,” Lollar said.
On Friday, Gillespie said she had yet to hear any concerns from the group about missing documents. But, for a previous interview with Global News on July 29, Gillespie said supporting documents like itemized receipts were not “subject to the information requested that we fulfilled.”
Gillespie did say KED kept supporting documents, despite a records policy indicating the organization can destroy documents after seven years.
“We put a ‘do not destroy’ on those files, so that to make sure they were intact because we were subject to the freedom of information request.”
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The documents KED did present to Friends of Kingston contain files like briefing notes, expense reports and credit card statements, the latter of which simply show how much was spent and when it was spent.
Gillespie has said that looking at numbers on credit card statements doesn’t offer enough context to glean why the money was spent.
Nevertheless, Gillespie said KED has received several requests from media asking for further documentation on specific spending items, most notably from items seen on credit card statements belonging to former CEO Jeff Garrah.
When Gillespie was asked why she couldn’t simply provide the supporting documentation, she pointed to the length of the time requested in the MFIPPA request and the breadth of documents that would need to be produced.
“It almost triggers another freedom of information request,” Gillespie said.
Despite Gillespie saying she wants to focus the organization’s energy on answering specific questions from reporters, Global News is still waiting for answers sent to Gillespie about Garrah’s spending habits sent on July 26.
Gillespie did say the organization is currently gauging how much time it should be spending looking back, when there is economic development work to be done.
“We’re trying to balance the time of going back and answering those questions with focusing on the present, and the service level agreements we’re under with the city, and making sure that we’re thinking about economic development and the results today and into the future.”
She also said she believes the questions she’s receiving are important and valid. She is currently looking to the board directors to decide how and if KED will look back at the spending during Garrah’s administration.
Global News has not been able to determine if there are indeed documents missing from the MFIPPA request, but Lollar believes there is, and that keeping documents from the group is simply another stalling tactic from the city’s arm’s-length economic development branch.
“We have been blocked, very often. They’ve made it very difficult to get that from us and it’s public information. It’s very sad,” Lollar said.
Nevertheless, both Lollar and MacKinnon say the group is not done looking through the documents. Neither Lollar nor MacKinnon would delineate any specific spending they found questionable, but they both noticed some potentially suspicious spending items. The group said they will reserve comment until after they have professionals look through the documents.
Once they have properly assessed the documents, MacKinnon says they hope to make them public.
“They will be shared with the public so everybody can see what just went on,” MacKinnon said.