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Barrie councillor behind leak of confidential information apologizes

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A Barrie city councillor is apologizing after exposing confidential information to a member of the public.

Councillor Clare Riepma is behind the leak, according to a newly released report from the City of Barrie's integrity commissioner, Suzanne Craig.

Timeline of Events

In the report, Craig alleges that the exposed information was discussed during an in-camera portion of a general committee meeting on Oct. 20, 2020.

However, the complaint wasn't brought to the attention of the integrity commissioner until Aug. 2023, after the minutes had been displayed when an individual was having a meeting with Barrie Mayor Alex Nuttall, along with two other residents, on June 20, 2023.

The individual was meeting with the mayor to discuss ways to reduce the use of motorized bikes on pedestrian pathways in Barrie's downtown and brought a file folder containing roughly 40 photos of motorized bikes. It was in that file folder that the documents marked as classified from a meeting nearly three years prior were found.

The individual told the integrity commissioner that they had never seen the confidential document, which was 10 pages in length.

The confidential minutes were from a meeting held during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Oct. 2020, when councillors were meeting virtually due to social distancing requirements.

Any confidential documents provided to councillors during this time were picked up by staff from the city clerk's office. However, the 10-page document that was originally in Riepma's possession was never returned to city staff.

The investigation would uncover that the individual who had the confidential documents had previously met with Riepma on the same issue that brought him to Nuttall's office in August 2023.

According to Craig's report, the individual met with Riepma on just one occasion and had the same file folder during that meeting that they brought to their meeting with Nuttall years later.

Riepma told the integrity commissioner that he was shocked by the complaint.

"I have no recollection of giving the material to [a named individual], and normally, I return all of my confidential materials to the clerk's office," said Riepma, according to the report.

According to Riepma, he left the meeting with the file folder containing around 40 photos as he looked to address the resident's concerns. Calling the disclosure of classified material 'inadvertent,' Riepma said it appeared to be the result of a mix-up.

"How [a named individual] got the confidential minutes is a mystery to me," Riepma is quoted as saying in the report. "The only rational explanation that I can suggest is that somehow the minutes were included in the other materials in his envelope that I returned to him. I have no recollection of doing this, and if that is the way it happened, it was inadvertent on my part."

Investigation and Challenges

However, despite interviewing multiple parties, Craig was unable to determine when the meeting between the resident and Riepma took place, a timeline that proves critical in this case.

According to the City of Barrie's Code of Conduct, "complaints must be submitted no more than one year after the alleged violation occurring. No action will be taken on a complaint received beyond these deadlines."

While the complaint wasn't filed until August 2023, more than a month after the confidential materials were discovered in the possession of a resident, Craig was unable to determine if it fell within that one-year window.

After drafting her report and providing a copy of it in advance to Riepma, the Ward 1 councillor had by that point been able to find documentation claiming that he had met with the resident in April 2022, proving that the disclosure fell outside of the one year window from when the confidential material was dated.

Proving as an integral part of her investigation, Craig decided to accept Riepma's late submission of when the meeting took place, meaning no formal action would be taken. However, since the report had already been drafted, she was mandated to file it with the council regardless of information proving the complaint was outside the one-year window when action could be taken.

Response and Future Protocols

The existence of the report came to light after an approximately 2.5-hour confidential meeting of the general committee on Feb. 28. During an open portion of the city council that night, the council passed a motion calling on staff to develop additional protocols for councillors when they handle any confidential information.

The motion went to stress how seriously the current council takes these expectations.

The City of Barrie said in a statement to CTV News this current term of council has "updated procedural bylaws to increase protocols for the protection of confidential information."

Some measures taken by the current term of council include prohibiting any electronic devices from being used during closed sessions.

The city clerk is expected to develop additional protocols.

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