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Need to be informed prompts changes at Victoria council

Sep 23 2012

Victoria councillors will have more timely access to third-party consultant reports after council direction to staff this week.

Some councillors demanded changes to reporting procedures after a seismic assessment of city facilities - in bureaucrats' hands for 20 months - only came to their attention after a media freedom of information request.

On Thursday, councillors passed a resolution directing staff to forward third-party reports related to city-owned assets with budgetary implications of $1 million on capital, operational or project specific budgets to councillors within 60 days. The reports would be forwarded in confidence and for information only.

Coun. Lisa Helps, who introduced the motion with Coun. Marianne Alto, said she was thrilled it was adopted.

"I think the outcome is better than I could have hoped for," Helps said.

Councillors also endorsed a number of staff recommendations, including:

- creating a quarterly financial report that lists all third-party reports;

- enhancing the online vendor system and routinely notifying council and the public of successful proponents for request for proposals;

- developing an Open Government website where third-party reports that have contributed to council decisions will be posted; and

- routinely providing third-party reports with staff recommendations.

"I think that the point of this entire exercise is we're sending a strong message to staff that we need to be informed," Coun. Shellie Gudgeon said.

Councillors retreated behind closed doors for about two hours Thursday to discuss the process to select a contractor to build the $92.8-million Johnson Street Bridge replacement.

At Thursday's meeting, councillors were told that after construction bids were received Oct. 18, they would go through a detailed evaluation process. After that evaluation - which could take several weeks - staff would report to council on the selection of the preferred proponent.

Ross Crockford, a director of the watchdog group johnsonstreetbridge.org, said the proposed process raised questions about what details staff would provide about the bids after Oct. 18, and how much time councillors would have to consider staff recommendations and demand revisions to the proposals.

After the in-camera session, Mayor Dean Fortin read a resolution that had been passed, saying that the evaluation committee would recommend a proponent to council and provide a rationale for the choice. Council would give final approval prior to the award and execution of the contract.

Helps said decision was significant because it gives council two decision points for awarding the contract - staff notification of the proposed contractor and the rationale, and approval of the contract.

The original staff recommendation was to approve the contractor and the proposed contract in one sitting, she said. bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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