City Council squares off with Ratepayers AssociationWednesday, October 02, 2013 by: Jamie LyleNorth Bay saw an evening of debate with accusatory tones during this week's regular meeting, with the Ratepayers Association and City council facing off in a political diatribe.
Miles Peters spoke to council on behalf of the North Bay Ratepayers Association regarding making proposed changes in the Purchasing by-law Agreement, a motion that was passed unanimously by council.
The change to the Purchasing and Tendering by-law would see increased spending limits before budgetary scrutiny would be necessary for those spending monies in municipal departments.
However, it is not clear what the money threshold would be that needs to be brought to another supervisor to be approved for spending or how the chain of command establishes who can sign off on expenditures.
An example of this would be if a department needed to buy five shovels, it might come under a threshold of less than say, a hundred dollar spending cap that might not need to be signed off by a supervisor.
With spending caps getting pushed up, time efficiencies would be seen by not having to trouble supervisors with every small purchase but, as Peters argued, this could leave the manipulation of individuals to spend exuberant amounts of money.
The Ratepayers Association, citing the fact that North Bay has some of the highest debt and tax levels of any city in Ontario, felt that increasing spending limits was the wrong way to go for council.
“Delegating higher limit decisions into the hands and minds of a number of staff, leaves the gate wide open for, personal bias, alliances, favouritism and abuse, “says Peters, adding, “It also increases out vulnerability to corruptive influence.”
With the city already at a high debt and tax level, it's akin to adding another credit card with a higher spending limit to pay down a debt load that many citizens already feel is too high and unfair.
“The proposed changes to the current by-law are essentially adding further decentralizing of the purchasing process when, in fact, council should be centralizing and tightening controls,” says Peters.
With Peter's presentation becoming a live wire, some councillors, instead of responding a question or asking for clarification, countered with an accusatory tone and a statement or two containing the words “be careful”.
Despite these statements made by councillors, it was felt by most that council was acting in a fair and transparent manner in their dealings, and reiterated that there was no substance to the accusations that may or may not be factual under any grounds.
Councillor George Maroosis, who agreed with the Procurement Purchasing and Tendering by-law, felt that councillors simply sidestepped the proper council process and that a more traditional approach is needed.
“Procedural by-law states that you're allowed to ask questions of a presenter and that's it, period, “says Maroosis, adding “You’re not allowed to enter into debate and make remarks about what is said.”
Councillor Maroosis pointed to the fact that the average citizen, unlike Peters, a more seasoned speaker, would feel overwhelmed and possibly intimidated to even approach council with their own concerns if council was to abandon proper council procedures.
“I think it would have intimidated other members of the general public if they were to be put into that position,” Maroosis says.
One of the concerns regarding the new by-law is the definition of 'best practice', where unfair competition or opportunity is passed from a few in City Hall to those outside the community while sidestepping the competitive marketplace and the regional suppliers of services.
Another point made by Peters was the fact that a well-disciplined procedural by-law is “absolutely necessary” in order to deter a practice of using every last budgetary dollar, even when it's not needed, in order to maintain the year to year strength of their requests for the coming year.
However, council said it was important to maintain confidence in their ability to finance the departments within the city in a fair and transparent way.
Mr. Peters also informed the public that the request for proposal and request for quotations have two different meanings to the city, with the request for proposal asking outside interests of what the needs are, by passing council, city staff and citizens far too often for a consultant firm in a city like Toronto.
Peters, in his presentation, said that “this confusion of requests for quotations versus proposals leaves the city vulnerable to inside and outside forces, with agendas and motives not in the best interests of our taxpaying citizens.”
In other words, a request for quotations is a request for a dollar figure and time frame to complete a predefined job (often over budget and over time), where as a request for proposals is more of a blank slate, asking what they think the job should entail and who should be conducting the work.
Councillors, along with Mayor Al McDonald, countered on behalf of City Staff that, when they are in need of a service or they have a particular idea in their minds as what they want done, they go to those who they perceive as being able to create that for them that fits within their time frame and budget.
“You can't run a city or a business without giving authority to your staff to a certain level that's open and transparent,” says McDonald.
“To have to go to the CAO in order to buy a shovel, that just doesn't make sense,” MacDonald adds.
Despite what occurred in chambers this week, it is hoped that council will be able to revive their meetings into more traditional events without the need for accusation and rebuttal, creating lager heads and a hostile environment for citizens to voice their concerns.