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Advisory panelist received untendered Johnson Street Bridge contract

Apr 17 2012

A former member of the Johnson Street Bridge citizen advisory panel was awarded $64,000 management consulting contract on the bridge replacement project that didn't go to bid.

Bill Larkin, an engineer and director of public works with the City of Winnipeg until 2009, was awarded a management consulting contract for $63,840 for the bridge project in July 2011, according to a report on single-source purchases presented to the City of Victoria's corporate services committee last week.

At the time he was awarded the contract, Larkin was a member of the JSB citizens' advisory panel, a group established to help provide the project independent oversight.

Because the contract was for more than $50,000 and no other bids were sought, only Victoria city manager Gail Stephens could approve it under the city's policy.

Stephens, who was Winnipeg's chief administrative officer from 1998 to 2003 - while Larkin worked there - was not available for comment.

In a report to the committee outlining the award, Larkin is described as an engineer who was responsible for construction of several bridges in Winnipeg.

"His previous experience regarding bridges will be a valuable asset for the JSB project. He was available immediately to assist on this project, where time is of the essence. He will also provide valuable advice on the aspects of project management and construction management processes for the city," the report says.

According to advisory panel meeting notes, Larkin served as a member of the panel in 2011 from January to October.

Ross Crockford, director of the watchdog group johnsonstreetbridge.org, said that by accepting the contract while a member of the panel, Larkin appears to have run afoul of the panel's guidelines.

Those guidelines state that members serve on a voluntary basis and receive no compensation. They also say: "All panel members will be asked to confirm and declare any conflict of interest given that individual's circumstances may change from time-to-time."

Crockford said the committee was established to provide independent project oversight - not paid consultation - and the guidelines are there for a reason.

"There is no independent oversight of this project," he said. "The frustration that I have as a citizen is [that] I have to direct questions to councillors in the hope councillors will raise them in meetings."

City director of engineering Dwayne Kalynchuk said Larkin resigned from the advisory panel when he received the contract.

When told the advisory panel's meeting notes posted on the city's website show Larkin sitting as a panel member until October - three months after the contract award - Kalynchuk had no explanation.

He said Larkin likely was sitting as an adviser, but was unaware of the specifics. He added: "The committee's not a decision making committee."

Kalynchuk said the city has tried to minimize solesourcing contracts involving the bridge.

"Here, it was a timing issue," he said.

Corporate services committee chairman Coun.

Chris Coleman said the contract was flagged primarily because of the amount. He said he expects more discussion when it goes before city council next week.

"You go to people you know are good," Coleman said of the contract award. "Should we be asking questions about it? Yes. We have the policy in place and then we ask the questions if we don't think the transparency test is passed."

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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