Vancouver's Christmas council session wrapped with little treasures

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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Vancouver city staff have dumped everything but the kitchen sink into the agenda prior to the Christmas break

Politicos normally call Fridays “garbage day”. It’s typically when governments put out items they hope get little media scrutiny. In city politics, the equivalent is the last week before the Christmas break. Senior public servants and politicians tend to stuff the agenda with tons of materials while their citizens are scurrying about sipping eggnog and purchasing last minute gifts. The hope is with so much going on during this busy season, there will be little time for anyone to mount a serious opposition to anything being debated.

This council (like others which have preceded it) is continuing with this long-standing Christmas tradition. A number of items have been placed on the agenda in the hope they can get quickly passed with little or no debate. The following items stand out from the pack:

  • A significant change in the way the city does procurement
  • The Hasting Park/PNE Master Plan
  • Establishment of a new policy to provide 50% subsidies for Vancouverites to purchase solar panels
  • A request seeking approval for an untendered contract valued at $300,000 for new offices for Community Services staff. They are planning to move to the new Woodward’s building in 2010.
  • A request seeking approval to spend $490,000 on the Olympic party at the LiveCity Downtown location

The report outlining changes to the City's procurement policy is probably the most significant item, however, it has not received any attention. You will recall that one year ago Vancouver's newly minted City Manager landed in hot water over a couple of $30,000 untendered contracts she handed to James Hoggan and Associates for communications work. Both contracts were issued within weeks of each other leading critics to charge that this was circumventing city policy. The current policy regarding the hiring of consultants states:

1.1 City Council Authorization: All projects excluding Corporate Re-Engineering/Better City Government (BCG) projects: City Council approval is required to appoint the consultant, if the gross cost will exceed $30,000.

According to city officials we spoke with today, proposed changes to Vancouver's procurement procedures would allow for much more flexibility in how the City Manager can award sole source contracts. In the report going to Council tomorrow, a section entitled "Exceptions – Sole Sourcing, Consulting, Credit Card Purchases, Etc." on page 14 outlines what the new rules will be for this type of purchasing. According to the report, the City can issue sole source contracts if (a) the value of the contract is less than $5K; (b) there is an emergency or (c) there is only one known supplier. Then the report states:

(d) City Manager Authorization: Where the circumstances set out in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) above do not or may not apply, then the City Manager may authorize a sole source contract provided such contract is signed by the City Manager and another member of the Vancouver Group and the total purchase price does not exceed $500,000, and the contract is then promptly reported on (i) to Council (if the contract is of a confidential or sensitive nature) or (ii) the Chief Purchasing Official for prompt issuance of a public notice so as to give the vendor community notice of the contract and an opportunity to comment on same.

If this is approved by council, it would appear the net result is the City Manager will have her authority increased on sole source consulting contracts from $30K to$500K. Had these rules been in place last December, it would have prevented the Hoggan issue from making headlines.

Currently the rules state that all contracts over $300K must be approved by a majority of the elected members of Council. Under the new rules, Ballem is also recommending that only contracts over $2 million will require political oversight.

Solar Panel Program

In addition to the new procurement policies, staff are proposing the introduction of a new subsidy program to help pay up to 50% of the costs related to Vancouverites installing solar panels. The program is anticipated to cost around $50,000 next year and if it’s successful, you can expect it will grow over time.

According to the report, a typical installation will cost around $7200 per home. The City of Vancouver will kick in $1000 while other partners will subsidize the other $2,600 leaving the homeowner to pick up the rest of the bill. These types of environmental subsidy programs have typically been the domain of senior levels of government, but it would appear the City wants to further expand its scope of influence in this area.

Move costs money

Despite all the talk of budget cuts, a plan to move the Community Services Group into new digs at the Woodward’s building is moving full steam ahead. A staff report states:

The purpose of this report is to seek Council approval to negotiate and award a sole-sourced construction contract up to a maximum value of $300,000 to Westbank for the tenant improvements required for the Community Services Group departmental move to the Woodward’s Heritage building, subject to confirmation that the proposal received provides value to the City.

Under the existing Lease, the Landlord (Westbank) is required to provide the City with an ‘enhanced’ base building (finished interior) shell that includes: mechanical rooms, public corridors, washrooms, carpet, ceiling, lighting, electrical, sprinkler and HVAC distribution suitable to an open office plan. The City, as tenant, is responsible for the design and construction of its tenant improvements that will include: the construction of main reception area, copy rooms, data rooms, storage rooms, meeting rooms, lunch rooms, offices and also the supply and installation of data lines and office furniture.

As for whether a sole source contract will end up saving money, the report states:

The cost savings of a sole-source contract have yet to be quantified.

Olympic contract tendered for party

Staff are also seeking approval to provide Live Nation Canada Inc with almost half a million dollars to pay for the Olympic party being planned at the LiveCity Downtown location. There are few details in the report as to what taxpayers will get for their money. The only statement in the report which helps to provide some clarity is:

THAT Council authorise Live Nation Canada, Inc., acting as general contractor for the LiveCity Vancouver project, to award a contract to Island Creative Management for specialised theatrical staging scenery and services at a total cost not to exceed $490,825 plus GST and as outlined in this report; source of funding to be the previously-approved $18 million LiveCity Vancouver project budget.

PNE/Hasting Park Master Plan

Lastly, Council is also planning on debating a major piece of public policy regarding the future of the PNE and Hastings Park.  We've simply run out of space to cover any more significant items that are being rammed into the last week of council.

So there you have it, Christmas is just around the corner and the City of Vancouver is busily trying to get all of their last minute reports nicely gift wrapped prior to the holiday break. The long-standing tradition of ramming major stuff through in the dying days of the legislative calendar seems alive and well under the leadership of Mayor Robertson and his team.

PS: Council is also planning to debate and vote on the entire 2010 Operating Budget on Friday, December 18th...only seven days before Christmas. Aaah...tis the season.

- Post by Daniel

1 Comment

Engineering has already moved to the Crossroads building, and CSG is supposedly moving to the Woodwards site. This leaves the main building at City Hall virtually empty and the secondary East Wing building completely empty. Wow, what a budget crunch when the City can afford to rent branc new facilities while the existing buildings stand empty. Maybe they should put the petting zoo in there.

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