Local taxpayer confronts council on Gardens overrunThursday, March 20, 2014 by: Jamie Lyle
This week's regular City Council meeting had a fiery presentation which questioned council from a taxpayer's point of view as to what went wrong with the Garden's renovation project.
James Brian, a retired school teacher, was at council that evening to address some issues regarding the recent auditor's report with respect to the cost overruns with the Memorial Gardens project.
Brian's eight questions were put forward to council; he asked the basic point of 'who knew' at the end of each statement.
The first question Brian asked was;
If there was supporting documents for the $12 million dollar guarantee made to the public regarding contracts, who on the council and in the City's administration knew about the flimsy planning for the renovation?
Secondly, Brian asked; if the early estimates provided to the city put the project over the price tag, who on council knew and kept the escalated costs out the public knowledge in order to push the project through?
His third question was that if sole responsibility was given to Peter Chirico as Managing Director of Community Service, to communicate cost overruns to Mr. Knox or to Council, did this mean that the Council and or the administration allowed him to operate on his own without any accountability and if so, did Council not question what was going on?
Brian also asked if there was inadequate supervision with regards to issuing change order, whose responsibility was it to ensure there was proper supervision?
His fifth point highlighted the question of why the $500,000 renovation costs to the kitchen were not included in the original estimate when it clearly was a part of the overall project to begin with.
Brian then asked if the $1 million federal contribution that was factored into the original estimate was already known to be refused but still used to justify as a contribution to the price tag.
He also pondered as to whether or not Council knew there was $600,000 in overruns in August of 2013, and if they did, did they suspect anything was going awry or was council denied any information from contractors?
Lastly, Brian blatantly asked City Council if the City's financial department involved in the huge project and if not, was it then the intent of the Mayor and Council to push through the renovation despite the costs so that there would not be any oversight from the accounting department?
Each of Brian's statements to council were followed by a pressing question of “Who knew?”, repeated in a scolding manner as though they were children being pressed to fess up to a deception to all the taxpayers who are “footing the bill” for the Garden's project and shouldering its cost overrun.
He informed Council that they were in a double jeopardy situation, that being, if they did know, they were lying to the taxpayers and if they didn't know, they were not fulfilling their duties to their constituents to ensure that their hard earned tax dollars were being spent wisely.
Brian's presentation drew much applause in the council chambers, as it seems that many were waiting for someone to come forward with what many in town have been discussing as the inconsistencies at City Hall and questions that have still gone unanswered.
His presentation drew no questions or response from council, with the exception of Councillor Mark King, who had to literally leap onto his feet and frantically wave his hand in order to gain permission from the Mayor to enquire further.
Many of the responses from council and the Mayor have been veiled in the concept that it is a “personnel matter” and a “legal issue” that they can't publicly discuss, however, in an interview; Councillor King did come forward, wanting to reiterate his view that it is a spending issue and well within the responsibilities of council.
“Citizens are angry and council needs to be just as angry about what happened,” King says, adding “it's a simple process of finding out where the money was spent.”
Many in the community feel that the Mayor and Council are running away from the issue, even though there was City Hall funded audit done by KPMG that, while it exonerated the Mayor and Council from having any knowledge regarding the cost overrun, the report didn't really answer how it all really went down; it didn't go into specific details regarding bank withdrawals or who made what contracts with whom on the behalf of the citizens without council's knowledge or approval.
Councillor King is concerned that if the Mayor continues to use the Municipal Privacy Act as a way to thwart discussing the issue openly, the Gardens and Council's conduct in the way that they handled the matter will become a major election issue later this fall.
“This is not going to go away,” says King, “and I feel that it is a duty to address the issues of spending, which in turn has to be made public in order to get to the bottom of it.”
Not surprisingly, repeated phone calls and requests made by a reporter at Baytoday to the Mayor's office to discuss Monday night's presentation were neither returned nor accepted.