Connaught

Connaught RFP Process Already Tainted by Staff Omissions

By Mary Louise Pigott
Published September 19, 2009

In a letter to the editor of the Spectator this morning, I argue that the request for proposal process that put the Connaught as the city's number one priority for Canada-Ontario Affordable Housing Program funding, should have been re-examined by council given the revelations about the Connaught consortium's tax arrears.

I wrote the letter Thursday before the additional revelations about Ted Valeri's law suit against the city.

It appears the majority of council were concerned about the legal ramifications of singling out the Connaught proposal, and the risk of losing funding for the other proposals on the list.

Councillors Ferguson, Mitchell, Clark, and Pasuta, however, were not swayed by these fears. Councillor Bratina had similar concerns, but chose to abstain.

The RFP process puts the "strength and background" of the bidders as the number one criterion for assessing proposals, accounting for 30 percent of the scoring.

Staff was aware of the tax arrears and the Valeri lawsuit when they assessed the Connaught proposal, yet unbelievably gave these bidders top marks.

Councillor Sam Merulla has stated that "this was a bureaucratic decision with no political interference until now." As I stated in my letter, this is disingenuous. The process became politicized when staff decided not to inform council about the tax arrears and the lawsuit, and it was staff who placed the other proposals at risk when they decided to put the Connaught at the top of the list.

In addition to their concerns over the loss of downtown hotel space, Clark, Mitchell, Pasuta, and Ferguson rightly recognized that these decisions "tainted" the entire RFP process, and voted accordingly. Hats off to them.

Mary Louise Pigott is an armchair urbanist and founding member of the Useful Knowledge Society, whose passion for urban neighbourhoods and public spaces occasionally moves her to write.

You can follow her on twitter at @mlhpigott.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted September 19, 2009 at 13:57:43

Strength leads one to think "virtue", a character trait or quality "valued", as being "good"

Background: can lead one to words like background understanding, speaking terms, on the record, off the record, unattributable.

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By Bob Bratina (anonymous) | Posted September 19, 2009 at 14:47:03

I am not satisfied that the advice we received from staff was clear and unequivocal. The suggestion was that the list of 6 projects had to be voted upon as a block, and that any delay, even if the list was submitted prior to the September 30th Provincial deadline, might jeopardize their approval. Although this may be true, I find it hard to believe and would have appreciated the opportunity to ask the Province how their policy is implemented. What is Council's role if, as we are told, the projects must be approved or rejected as a group, and in the order of the staff rating? Why then is this not simply sent directly to the Province without Council direction? In my opinion the staff rating should not necessarily guide Council's own priorities. Perhaps affordable housing in a vacant core hotel is not as important as a residential facility for people suffering from mental illness. In any case, either we are empowered with decision making or we're not, and if not, why did it come before us? Furthermore, I asked staff shortly before 5:00 p.m. on Council night whether we would receive any more information regarding the Connaught, and the answer was no. We later learned that the City Solicitor learned that very morning about the lawsuit involving a member of the Connaught consortium. We were told when I raised the question that the Solicitor had not recalled the lawsuit until a member of the legal staff advised him that we may "have a problem", having seen the name of the litigant in a Spectator story that morning. Apparently we should not be apprised of this unless we ask. Had we known none of this, and unanimously passed the recommendation, would there not be a rightful public outcry if some time later these facts came out?

Respectfully, I feel that this matter has raised serious questions which require answers, to assure the public of the integrity of our processes.
Bob Bratina.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 19, 2009 at 15:52:38

thanks for the info Bob. I agree with you. I was watching council that night and although I'm no lawyer, I had a hard time understanding why the province would care if we submitted 5 projects or 6 projects. I doubt they have someone watching Cable 14 to see which projects our council submits. If understand the RFP process correctly, they ask for projects and the city submits a list of them. Whether there are 3 or 13 on that list I don't think matters.

Of course, we could have submitted 5 and then dealt with this before the next round of proposals.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted September 19, 2009 at 16:15:07

Hi Bob, Just wondering if you could clarify the reasoning behind the in camera session. Thanks

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By Bob Bratina (anonymous) | Posted September 19, 2009 at 17:10:12

We went in camera to receive legal advice involving identifiable individuals, which is what occurred.

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By old ironsides (anonymous) | Posted September 19, 2009 at 21:59:31

why was valeri's lawsuit a surprise to everyone on council? this sure as hell wasn't the first time i'd heard about it...

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By Dave Kuruc (anonymous) | Posted September 19, 2009 at 22:14:29

Can I also ask - perhaps a new blogpost is in order for this one - but I want it out of my head:

Why are we are allowing folks like Fercan (City Centre - home of City Mall) and Ark Tech Contracting Ltd. (the guys who change the lightbulbs of our city streets) to be behind on paying their municipal taxes?

Especially when they are being paid by us the taxpaying public to do work for us and to house our Civic offices...

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By Curious (anonymous) | Posted September 20, 2009 at 11:14:50

@Jason who said:

"I was watching council that night and although I'm no lawyer, I had a hard time understanding why the province would care if we submitted 5 projects or 6 projects. I doubt they have someone watching Cable 14 to see which projects our council submits."

Don't be naive! The issue isn't the Ministry, the issue is the proponents who will sue if they think they are being jerked around in the process. The point though is: what's another law suit? According to the evidence it could be defended. What is indefensible is the designation of a landmark for affordable housing. Council was either stupid, dumbstruck by poor legal advice, or wishing to accommodate a well connected development group...or maybe all three! In which case the following has to happen: 1. admit stupidity, 2. fire the legal team/individual 3. Submit the same list to the ministry with the Connaught at the bottom of the list rather than the top of the list...

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By Mary Louise (anonymous) | Posted September 20, 2009 at 13:31:28

Clr. Bratina, thanks for taking the time to flesh out your position. I too had questions about council's role that were edited from my letter to the Spec. I attended the council meeting and, like Jason, couldn't understand why council was being asked to be nothing more than a rubber stamp, especially given that new information had come to light that called the Connaught proposal into question. Why was such a tainted process being held up as sacrosanct? Why elect representatives if they're not allowed to question unelected, unaccountable staff? I realize political interference needs to be proscribed, but this was a decision that will have an incalculable impact on our downtown for years to come, and yet it has been allowed to be made by unelected, unaccountable, seemingly untouchable mandarins. You are correct that this causes the public to lose faith in the "integrity of our processes".

I'm a little confused by your statement that there would have been public outcry if this information had come out after a unanimous vote. I doubt it would be anything compared to the public outcry we have now, due to the majority of council still supporting it, despite having the information *before* the vote.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted September 20, 2009 at 13:55:53

Mary Louise: I like how you have put into words,

"yet it has been allowed to be made by unelected, unaccountable, seemingly untouchable mandarins"

The city is a corporation but it derives much of its revenue from taxes from the citizens and businesses. Yet these same groups do not seem to have a voice into any of the processes as to how the money is spent.

The elected officials who are suppose to represent the people needs or should I say balance all the voices, has failed on many levels.

No wonder the voter turnout levels are so low.

I found it an interesting observance that those the untouchable mandarins, the high performing public servants would not wnat live in or near any of these "projects".

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By Dave Kuruc (anonymous) | Posted September 20, 2009 at 14:41:53

I would like to add AGAIN that Hamilton's director of economic planning and development - Tim McCabe lives nowhere near Hamilton. We need to start requiring our senior staffers make a commitment to this community by living here! How many of these folks making important decisions about Hamilton's future actually live here?

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By Inanity (anonymous) | Posted September 20, 2009 at 15:16:23

@Kuruc "I would like to add AGAIN that Hamilton's director of economic planning and development - Tim McCabe lives nowhere near Hamilton. We need to start requiring our senior staffers make a commitment to this community by living here! How many of these folks making important decisions about Hamilton's future actually live here?"

This is the silliest reason to chastise city staffers. They can't live everywhere! It can be argued that city staff also make important decisions about Alberton. How many of them live in that community? or Elfrida? or pick any part of the city...Tim's mistake in supporting the project, if that is what he did is a substantive error, not a georgraphical one. Get real or be dismissed.

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By Mary Louise (anonymous) | Posted September 20, 2009 at 15:44:27

McCabe doesn't live in Alberton or Elfrida, he lives in *Kitchener*, a *completely different city*. Do you suppose Toronto would hire someone who lives in St. Catharines as their head of EcDev?

In any case McCabe's views on the Connaught proposal have not been made public. I don't believe he was involved in the RFP process in any material way. It was the head of Community Services Jo-Anne Priel, who put the proposals forward. That wasn't Dave's point. His point was, a number of important civil servants such as McCabe, do not even live in the City of Hamilton. They are making crucial decisions that will affect our future, yet they will never have to live with the consequences. How can we trust our future to people who aren't committed enough to our city to live here?

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted September 20, 2009 at 16:24:00

Off topic but relevent:

As the head of Community Services, Ms Priel has some explaining to do around the recent alarming fact the system is clawing back amounts of the Ontario Child Benefits, off of the OW/ODSP cheques.

Those who care about those that struggle are very alarmed, that since July, we are seeing people that are getting less money then in the previous month.

Many also feel that, Council's decision to separate the development of a strategy for emergency food services (in the Community Services department) from the development of a food security plan for the city (in the food security advisory committee reporting to the Board of Health) is inefficient, counterproductive and confusing to the public.

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By Balance (anonymous) | Posted September 20, 2009 at 21:16:55

Let's not forget that the City gave this Connaught Group around $900,000 grant to remove asbestos from the building, ERASE program pilot fund. Then they turn around and don't bother paying any property taxes. Also, Valery has been a partner from the start and had his lawsuit against the City when they were given the initial grant. I've read on numerous occasions how people with lawsuits against the City aren't eligible for grants. What's different with this group? Friends with the Director of Downtown Renewal Marini? I don't understand.

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By family resemblance (anonymous) | Posted September 21, 2009 at 08:47:28

Any relation between Ted Valeri and Tony Valeri?

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By realitycheck (anonymous) | Posted September 21, 2009 at 10:54:41

Grand Connaught did not receive a 9$00,000 grant form the city's ERASE program for asbestos removal. The ERASE program grant was actually for $229,500.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted September 21, 2009 at 12:15:39

Councillor Bratina,

It is deals such as the RCH that explain why Hamilton has such a bad image and why people do not want to invest in the downtown.

---------

I think that Ted and Tony are brothers.

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By SpermCount (anonymous) | Posted September 21, 2009 at 12:28:56

No I think Ted Valeri is Tony Valeri's son or maybe son-in-law once removed!

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted September 21, 2009 at 13:24:32

Dave, you're absolutely right. How hard can we expect a senior bureaucrat like McCabe to think about a decision when he has absolutely no personal stake in the consequences?

I'd wager that if you were to look at the City's salary disclosure list, not a single one of those bureaucrats earning $100k (or above) lives in the lower city. They have no stake in the place they're supposed to be managing. You just can't expect top performance under such circumstances.

I don't think it would be unreasonable at all to demand that top-level bureaucrats live within the city boundaries. Indeed, one shouldn't even have to demand it. The problem is that the people who work for the city have no sense of their job as a public service. The vast majority are in it only for the security of tenure and comfortable pay scale. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone on Hamilton staff who has any real passion for the city.

As for the City Solicitor's advice to council, I still don't understand why singling out the Connaught Proposal for further consideration would lead to liability issues. Courts have made it quite clear that elected bodies do not owe a defined standard of care or review to private interests in their deliberations and decisions. The only thing that matters - and rightly so - is the public interest.

As for the decision to go in camera, I still think it was suspect, despite Mr. Bratina's explanation. The fact that litigation is attached (or potentially attached) to a particular aspect of an issue under deliberation does not justify the closing of all discussions on that issue. Even if it were to be justified on a literal application of the law, I still think it incumbent on council to ensure that any interruption to public access to debates be absolutely minimized. I truly think that council has been playing fast and loose with the in camera provisions of the Municipal Act and that we should be holding them to account to the furthest extent the law allows so as to break the culture of secrecy at City Hall.

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted September 21, 2009 at 13:38:34

Mary, in my view the only reason to "proscribe" political interference is the fact that councillors in this city so rarely have the public interest at heart when they seek to intervene in staff decision making. In a truly functional democracy, I wouldn't want important decisions left to the discretion of unelected mandarins (who in most cases attain to their position through personal connection rather than professional merit). If I felt that our council truly represented the interests of the city and its residents, I would want them scrutinizing as many proposals as possible. Unfortunately I don't feel that way ... but we're still left in a conundrum, because I don't believe that the bureaucracy has the public interest at heart either.

Truly, there must be nothing more depressing than municipal politics ...

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By frank (registered) | Posted September 21, 2009 at 14:14:04

As a quick note, I asked Chad Collins to explain his change in vote (he originally told me he'd vote no and then voted yes) and his reply was this:

"...our legal staff noted at our meeting that if the majority of Council took the Connaught property off of the list we would be on the losing end of lawsuit for damages, as they were successful in the RFP process. Alternatively, we could have defeated the recommendation and issued a new RFP, however the timeline for the Provincial funding is September 30th. The other 5 applications (and two are in my ward) would not receive funding as well. Essentially, we would have received no housing funding this year, possibly foregoing millions of dollars in funding. It's now up to the province to decide which projects will receive funding."

I asked him if there was a way we could influence the decision at the provincial level and his reply was this:

"...the decision to fund (or not fund) the application will be made by the Minister. I'm certain that our local government representatives, MPP Sophia Aggelonitis and Minister Ted McMeekin, will have a say in what projects are selected to receive funding."

So start writing letters again!

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted September 21, 2009 at 14:57:47

Ok, the liability relates to the first RFP process. Still, could it not be argued that the RFP process was not complete until staff's recommendations were approved by council?

If council had approved the proposal, and then backtracked and decided to reconsider the Connaught proposal in particular, then fine, I can see how the city would be liable. But staff didn't have executive decision making power here. They just offered their advice to council and council was not bound to take it. I don't see how any liability can attach to a decision by council not to follow the advice of staff.

In effect, what the City Solicitor seems to be saying is that anyone who makes a proposal to the city automatically gets a chose in action simply by virtue of having made the proposal. That just doesn't make sense.

Even if there were a basis for a claim by the consortium, wouldn't they have to prove in court that the city was bound to accept their proposal because it was the best bid? That's something which they would be very hard pressed to do.

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