City of Iqaluit boosting “old boys” image: councillor

Coun. Stu Kennedy accuses administration of “going too far” in decision to award $187,000 contract without competition

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

GREG YOUNGER-LEWIS

Despite criticisms that city hall will look like “an old boys’ club”, Iqaluit city council is fast-tracking a housing project by giving a lucrative subdivision design contract to a long-time consultant – without opening the job up to competition.

Coun. Stu Kennedy said council is creating the impression in Iqaluit that city hall breaks its own rules to favour its long-time colleagues.

His criticism came in the wake of a council decision on March 23 to pay Steve Burden, an engineering consultant who works on most of Iqaluit’s subdivision projects, upwards of $187,000 to organize a feasibility study on the Plateau project.

Under the approved contract, Burden has assembled a team of other consultants with close ties to the municipality to design a “sustainable subdivision,” a residential area with loosely defined goals to save energy. The development area sits on the plateau above the Arctic College family residences, west of the road leading to the power plant.

Administration recommended that council fast-track the project in order to save time, mainly on the construction phase of the subdivision.

Kennedy said administration’s push for efficiency “had gone too far,” and suggested the other councillors were misguided in believing that it would save time.

“I think we’re taking a dangerous step,” Kennedy said before voting against the decision. “There’s a perception out in the industry that… it’s an old boys’ club, that we continue to circumvent our own procedures.”

“It’s the easy option, and the short-cut option, and we have to avoid this. We haven’t saved that much time. You’re kidding yourselves.”

Generally, Iqaluit council looks for competing quotes after receiving various estimate from the private sector on how much a project will cost. After receiving competing quotes, council usually sends out a request for project proposals, especially if the contract is more than a few thousand dollars. Then, administration reviews the proposals and makes recommendations to council.

In this case, Burden drew up the proposal without competition.

According to the City’s 1994 contract and tender policy, council can bypass the tendering procedure if the service is “urgently required and a delay would be injurious to the public interest.”

The policy cautions that the value of the contract should not exceed $10,000.

Iqaluit’s chief engineer, Brad Sokach, said recently that the city couldn’t afford to follow regular tendering procedures.

He said two problems are pressuring the City of Iqaluit to pick up the pace on development. Besides facing a “critical housing shortage,” Sokach said Iqaluit risks breaking a funding agreement with the Government of Nunavut if it doesn’t produce more housing – fast.

Under its capital funding agreement with the Nunavut government, the municipality is supposed to develop 80 lots per year. Sokach estimates Iqaluit has produced only 38 in the last two years.

“We’re on a really tough time frame,” Sokach said during a meeting of the Engineering and Planning committee on March 16. “We’ve got our back into a corner.”

By avoiding filtering through other proposals, Sokach said the project will get a nearly two-month head-start. If the project was opened to competition, he said the delay would be enough to ensure housing construction wouldn’t start until late next year or the year after.

During the committee meeting, Sokach defended his recommendation to hand-pick Burden for the Plateau development, and assured councillors that he had “drilled” the consultant on every aspect of the proposal.

“He’s not milking this project,” Sokach said. “I’m surprised with how generous he’s been.”

Supporters of bypassing the tendering process also noted that Burden’s consulting team has extensive experience in the Iqaluit, which they said is hard to come by.

Under the contract he wrote, Burden will hire, among others, Chrystal Fuller, Iqaluit’s former director of lands and planning, who now lives in Nova Scotia; Debbie Nielsen, who recently completed a contract with Iqaluit as a sustainable initiatives coordinator for funding climate change projects; and Ottawa-based FoTenn Consultants Inc., who recently developed Iqaluit’s General Plan, Zoning By-law and Core Area Plan.

During the council meeting, Mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik defended the decision to rule out competition for the feasibility study.

“We have a big shortage of housing,” Sheutiapik said. “It’s not a decision that was made lightly. Sole-source contracting isn’t something we’re going to do all the time.”

Community consultations on the Plateau project will begin this summer. In a recent interview with Nunatsiaq News, Burden said the development will include a mix of social housing, private development and business, with the aim of encouraging developers to construct environmentally-sound buildings that are energy-efficient. He expected the development would provide around 300 new housing units in the next few years.

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