Thursday, April 22, 2010

Thank you for this.

Yesterday at Transportation Committee, City Staff presented councillors with an offer from New Flyer for some discount buses. The councillors who were let in on the deal before the meeting were told not to talk about it.

The report itself wasn't available in advance of the meeting, and isn't on the agenda for the meeting (unless it's the blandly titled item 4, "FLEET ACQUISITION STRATEGY", which doesn't link to any report). Additionally, the Committee had to waive the rules of procedure in order not only to hear the report without advance notice (to councillors or to the public), but also to discuss and decide on it.

The Committee approved the recommendation, thus sending it to Council to consider (not sure exactly when, but I suspect May 12). If any member of the public wanted to scrutinize the details, they had between the time the report was presented and presumably a few minutes after that to review the information and make a presentation.

The details of the offer are now available--after the Committee made its decision--but none of the articles I've seen so far have been able to explain the secrecy.

I e-mailed Transit Committee Alex Cullen asking for the report, and asking about this secrecy, since he chairs the committee and new about the deal before the meeting, and also because he's very big on transparency and fairness in government.

His reply:

Thank you for this. First, I am not Chair of Transportation Committee, but Chair of Transit Committee*. Second, you should be able to find this report on the City's web site under Council & Committee Agendas & Minutes. Third, this is not a sole-source contract but is well within the existing contract that the City has with New Flyer Industries. What has happened is that New Flyer had a large order from Chicago cancelled (they are going through some tough economic times there) and came to us with an offer to accelerate our bus replacement program at a far cheaper price, with the additional benefits of better warranties (5 years instead of the industry 2-year norm) plus lower maintenance costs and higher fuel efficiencies. It is a very good deal and very affordable.

It is unfortunate that, due to timing issues (the final proposal from New Flyer came last Friday, and staff have been working hard to analyze it and provide due diligence) this report could not be made public beforehand, but it is too good a deal to ignore. Transit Committee did spend quite a bit of time on this matter and did endorse this proposal for Council's consideration.

[*RG: this was my bad, two of four references in my original e-mail were to Transportation Committee, which I'm more used to dealing with]
Hopefully you didn't read it all looking for the reason why it had to be kept under wraps until the meeting and why it had to be considered so urgently, because there's nothing of the sort in his reply. Just stuff about how it's such a good deal, which placates some and not others.

The report wasn't on the Committee Agendas & Minutes page, though Ken Gray posted something official resembling the report on his blog in the intervening time of the messages. Since the meeting wasn't broadcast or webcast, the public will have to wait for the minutes to be posted to hear how the committee members scrutinized the deal they were just told about.

When I replied to Councillor Cullen reiterating my question about the need for urgency, he replied:

Thank you for this. New Flyer had a time-limited window to make this offer, as they had to cover the cancelled order or lay people off - another reason for the good price.
I'm sure Alex is a busy guy with lots of stuff to do--running for mayor, being one, so he probably didn't have time to answer this question, and the question of why everyone was sworn to secrecy beforehand (reminiscent of the horrible N-S LRT project killed in 2006 whose secret contract ended up costing us $37 million for nothing), but I'm surprised that most of the mainstream coverage completely skips over this issue now that it's passed. Makes it really frustrating for those of us who weren't in the room to figure out why our elected representatives did this.

It's tough because I'm usually on the same side as Alex (I've even held back a few punches in this post), but on this one there are simply too many loose ends that are being swept under the rug.

- RG>

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