SJSE should release total payout for workplace disputes, says commissioner

St. John's Sports and Entertainment operates Mary Brown's Center in downtown Newfoundland and Labrador's capital.  (Zach Goudie/CBC - photo credit)

St. John’s Sports and Entertainment operates Mary Brown’s Center in downtown Newfoundland and Labrador’s capital. (Zach Goudie/CBC – photo credit)

St. John’s Sports and Entertainment should disclose information in its financial statements about the total amounts paid to settle a number of workplace disputes and how much was paid to settle another matter.

That’s according to a report released on Friday by Newfoundland and Labrador Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael Harvey.

“Information about the use of public funds is a key element of transparency and accountability,” Michael Harvey wrote in his report.

“The quickest way to undermine support for public bodies is to give those bodies the resources so they can’t be held accountable for the costs they incur.”

SaltWire Network had asked the city about the SJSE’s financial statements, but the 2021 report contained redactions. SaltWire — which publishes the St. John’s Telegram and other newspapers in Atlantic Canada — appealed the decision to the transparency watchdog.

In his report, Harvey noted that the information redacted in the 2021 financial statements related to these comparisons.

The city put forward a number of arguments arguing that the figures should remain sealed – everything from litigation privilege to settlement privilege to financial and economic damage.

“According to the city, claims are still pending,” Harvey’s report said.

“As such, the City contends that disclosure of the full settlement amount would adversely affect its financial interests in relation to future claimants and should be withheld.”

The Commissioner rejected these submissions.

Office of the Information and Data Protection Commissioner

Office of the Information and Data Protection Commissioner

Last year, CBC News made a similar request for information regarding the values ​​of individual settlements to employees of St. John’s Sports and Entertainment who had left the organization.

In this case, the commissioner sided with the city.

But in the current report, Harvey noted that this matter is different as it deals with aggregate payout amounts.

A year ago, CBC News reported that half a dozen senior employees had recently left SJSE, the municipal company that runs the Mary Brown’s Centre.

The organization has been embroiled in a controversy over conflicts with its main tenant, including allegations of “workplace disrespect” towards SJSE employees.

When the commissioner agreed last year for the SJSE to withhold the information, the city issued a statement saying: “We respect the commissioner’s recommendations and will act on them.”

On Friday, city officials declined to deal with the latest decision, instead directing inquiries to SJSE, which did not respond before the deadline.

By law, the city has 10 business days to decide whether to appeal the commissioner’s decision to the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court.

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