Indefensible secrecy in City’s bid decisions? Compare Vancouver vs Toronto. Case in point: $8.51 million bid (3-year contract, supply of traffic control services)

Dollar signs, CHW(Updated) A July 23, 2014 meeting of Vancouver City Council will be reviewing a staff recommendation to enter a three-year contract (extendable to five) with Ansan Industries Limited for the supply of traffic control services. The price? $8.51 million. 

The average citizen reading the staff recommendation to Council (download PDF) might conclude that the process was all fair and proper. And maybe it was. The staff write a good narrative leading to the winning bid, but no evidence is provided. The public is expected to trust City Hall, but the flip side of trust is the ability to verify. And verification of propriety is impossible, based on what the City of Vancouver provides.

It does not have to be this bad. Compare Vancouver’s approach with Toronto’s Bid Committee. Here, available online, are the minutes of a Bid Committee meeting of the City of Toronto on July 9, 2014.  http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewPublishedReport.do?function=getMinutesReport&meetingId=8685

In contrast, it appears the City of Vancouver Bid Committee does not even have a web page, and minutes of its meetings are not published. Compare…

VANCOUVER

TORONTO

Bid Committee has a web page?

No

Yes

Minutes made public online?

No

Yes

Shortlist of received bids published?

No

Yes

Comparison of bids, in dollars?

No

Yes

Names/contact info for responsible staff clearly indicated?

No

Yes

Links provide for extensive background on the bid?

No

Yes

Indefensible secrecy, complete lack of transparency?

YES!

No

Note that Toronto’s Bid Committee meetings appear on the city’s monthly calendar. Six meetings are indicated for July 2014, with live hyperlinks.

http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/meetingCalendarView.do?function=meetingCalendarView#current

Toronto’s Bid Committee has its own web page, which provides extensive detail.
http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/decisionBodyProfile.do?function=doPrepare&meetingId=8685#Meeting-2014.BD188
“Bid is an administrative committee that awards contracts under limits established by Council and set out in Municipal Code Chapter 195.”Toronto City Hall Here are some observations:

  • Records appear to be archived back to 2006.
  • The full year schedule of meetings is listed.
  • You can search for bids using any keywords, and advanced search features are available. For example, a search today for “traffic control” turns up 21 items.
  • You can click on any hyperlink to any specific bid, in exquisite detail.
  • It appears the minutes are posted the day after the meeting. This CityHallWatch post was made on July 19 (Saturday). The minutes of the July 17 Bid Committee meeting were already online.

Seeing this, two questions comes to mind:

  1. What is wrong with the City of Vancouver?
  2. Which candidates for City Council in the November 2014 civic election are willing to put their reputations on the line and promise to introduce a system at least as good as Toronto’s immediately after being elected?

Notes:

  1. The July 23, 2014 meeting is the Standing Committee of Council on Planning, Transportation and Environment.
  2. We thank investigative reporter Bob Mackin for pointing out this indefensible secrecy with these tweets. Links are provided further below.
  3. Corporate transparency: We are pleased to see that parent company (Ansan Group) of the bid winner (Ansan Industries) actually provides some information online about the parent company’s ownership and governance structure. (Nothing about Ansan Industries itself.) The name of the Group CEO is provided, as well as the head of another member of the corporate group, plus CFO and other senior management. This is better than average. We have noticed that companies dealing with the City of Vancouver, whether for bids and contracts or for rezonings and development, big and small, are rather secretive and opaque. We encourage companies that have nothing to hide to let the public know more about them, particularly ownership structure and principals.
  4. A reader asked us to comment on the green justification City staff used in recommending the bid winner, with the opinion that City Hall is “really scraping the bottom of barrel on finding something “green” to justify their decisions.”
    Excerpt of staff report: Environmental implications – Ansan has undertaken a number of sustainability initiatives including:
    – lane closure trucks that are equipped with dual batteries to allow them to operate without engine idling
    – utilization of an electronic methods for payroll, communications, as well as for invoicing and receiving payments
    – the implementation of electronic timekeeping through the use of iPads to eliminate paper usage

    While these are good things, our reader added, “I would have thought efficient movement of traffic would have been key thus reducing greenhouse gases…” The reader was disappointed that probably the most important “green” aspect was missing from consideration.
  5. Activist-oriented readers might wish to write Mayor and Council before the meeting (mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca) asking that the full information be provided by staff during the meeting, equal to what Toronto taxpayers would get to know. Shortlist and comparative bids, etc. Also, readers are encouraged to observe the meeting in person or by life web on the day to see how this discussion proceeds. Watch your elected officials in action.
  6. A great tip from Christopher Swope of Cityscope. How Barcelona and Philadelphia are turning procurement upside down – See more at: http://citiscope.org/story/2014/how-barcelona-and-philadelphia-are-turning-procurement-upside-down. The approach is less prescriptive, and is more outcomes oriented.

Related reading….

Procurement transparency (election topic?): City of Vancouver spent $686 million on goods and services in 2013. List of suppliers released for purchases more than $25,000 (CityHallWatch, 27-March-2014)

 

One thought on “Indefensible secrecy in City’s bid decisions? Compare Vancouver vs Toronto. Case in point: $8.51 million bid (3-year contract, supply of traffic control services)

  1. I suppose we can always hope that following the next election, a future council lead by another party, brings more transparency to the procurement process. OR we could think bigger and follow the lead of some major cities and do away with the bidding process. No, not like the article details, but as this article states:
    How Barcelona and Philadelphia are turning procurement upside down – See more at: http://citiscope.org/story/2014/how-barcelona-and-philadelphia-are-turning-procurement-upside-down#sthash.WbPZo4Gg.dpuf

    That’s the kind of leadership that makes cities great.

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