friends of dufferin grove park
CELOS: City Playground Refit Research
posted April 27, 2004
City Parks and Recreation Department has trouble accounting for some large city playground repair expenditures
Parks and Rec asks our research group (CELOS) to pay $12,900 for staff time, to find receipts for $4.3M playground repair funds.

We asked Parks and Recreation where the CSA-related playground repair money was spent. They didn't answer. We applied to the City's Corporate Access and Information office. They wrote back that it would cost us $12,900 to find out what was done to repair/retrofit the playgrounds. That's because the Parks staff don't record their spending in any detail, and they would have to rummage through boxes for the pieces of paper containing that information. They told us it would take supervisors 442 hours to do that rummaging, at $30 an hour.

We thought it might help if they sent us as much detail as they have in their yearly reports, and we'd look for any relevant line items we could find, even just about any playground work that was done. But they sent reports that were just general summaries, no help at all. When we tried to explain why the general summaries were not what we needed, they sent word that we were changing our request and confusing them. So Jutta Mason sent them this letter on April 26, 2005:

Mr.Rob Candy,
Corporate Access and Privacy Office,
City of Toronto.

Dear Mr.Candy,

Here are the original questions (submitted on July 8, 2004, re-submitted Nov.15 2004):

Central question:
"How much was actually spent in each ward for these CSA playground repairs, compared to the projected amount to be spent?"

Supplementary questions:
1. How much of this money was spent at Henderson Playground Co., how much at Belair Equipment Co.?
2. How much was spent for parts, base material, labour at Huron Playground, and Dufferin Grove Park playground?

I think the general manager's confusion arises from my mistaken attempt to be helpful when I suggested that I could look for the relevant line items myself. That's why I asked for the detailed (by individual regions) Parks budgets. The reports I got from Mr.Andrade were

1. not detailed at all
2. not from the section of the Division that handled the playground repairs.

I then asked for the detailed reports from the relevant section (under Bob Crump). Is that what confuses the City?

To re-iterate: My central question remains the same (see above, in bold; see also the same wording as noted in the C.A.P. letter to me, dated Jan.9, 2005). My supplementary questions remain the same.

The reasons for my question remain the same:

1. between $4.3 and $4.8 million of CSA-related playground repair money is unaccounted for
2. many Parks playgrounds had equipment removed without replacement.

The City-wide assessment of Parks and Recreation playground sites was the basis of City Council's extra allocation of CSA-related repair money. Our copy of the City's very detailed playground assessment report (published on our web site was obtained through C.A.P. on Oct.18 2004 (04-1319). This report specifies what was to be done with the money. Since these repairs were often not carried out (another group is working on a park-by-park inventory of what was removed and not replaced), we want to find out where the money went instead.

This seems like a very clear request, based on widespread public dissatisfaction with playground destruction.

The mediator from the provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner called me today to tell me that since there is no progress on this file from the City, she will now turn the request over to an Arbitrator. I agree. I gather that you will be sending me the City's response to my March 1 fee waiver request in a few days. I will be most interested to find out whether Parks and Recreation intend to cooperate in investigating this playground mystery. This would also, incidentally, be a good chance for Parks and Recreation to bring their book-keeping up to the accepted standard, as reflected elsewhere in City government.

I think that direct collaboration in good faith would have been easier, early on.

Jutta Mason