Whitehorse city council has voted to award the $1.4-million contract to design the new city services building to Kobayashi and Zedda Architects.
The 6-1 vote for the contract award was held at council’s April 27 meeting with Coun. Samson Hartland being the only councillor to vote against the contract award.
Instead, he argued, the city should cancel the request for proposals that went out for the work and issue a new one.
His comments came following a two-week postponement by council on the matter after a number of questions were raised.
KZA was one of four firms to issue proposals for the work.
Two didn’t meet the technical requirements to open the separate envelopes containing the prices for the work.
While KZA and another passed the technical requirements for their pricing envelopes to be opened, it was found the prices for the other bid didn’t match the work outlined. Legal advice was sought by the city on that bid and it was confirmed that bid should also be rejected, leaving KZA’s as the only bid to meet the requirements.
Council members though continued to raise issues on the matter, eventually opting to postpone the vote to review the contract again.
“Administration has determined that there is no evidence that this procurement was conducted other than in conformance with city policy,” Peter O’Blenes, director of infrastructure and operations, stated in a report to council ahead of the April 27 vote.
He pointed out a legal review on the contract was done and it concluded there was reasonable grounds to reject three of the proposals, which left KZA’s as the only remaining eligible bid to be awarded the contract.
Another question that had been raised by council was around KZA’s prior work on other contracts related to the overall project, including the 2019 conceptual design. O’Blenes said the legal review had concluded that prior involvement is permitted under Canadian procurement law and there’s no evidence any bidder had an unfair advantage in the process.
Finally, O’Blenes confirmed the city could cancel the RFP in favour of issuing a new one, but added that could involve some legal risk around a duty of fairness, given that prices on this one have already been revealed.
Hartland would later argue, however, that whatever direction the city decided to take on this contract involves some risk given the issues that have come up.
He said he would rather “start fresh” with a new RFP.
His comments came after council went in-camera on the discussion. It was Coun. Dan Boyd who indicated he wanted a private discussion on the matter.
In moving ahead with the vote to go in-camera for discussion, Mayor Dan Curtis cited section 231 of the territorial Municipal Act, which allows in-camera discussions if the information being discussed could impact a municipality’s ability to carry out negotiations.
Council returned from the in-camera discussion a few minutes later with Hartland being the only council member to voice his opposition to the contract.
Others noted that while the decision has been challenging, administration has done a full review, answered council’s questions and gotten legal advice about it showing that it should be awarded to KZA.
Coun. Laura Cabott said that while “asking questions is council’s job”, having received answers to those questions and with a full legal review, she believes awarding the contract to KZA is the right decision.
Cabott also noted though that the situation points to a need to look at the overall process.
As Boyd commented while he was also ready to support the contract award to KZA, the city needs to work hard at creating opportunities for competitive competition on such contract.
Some council members also highlighted federal funding the city is set to receive for the project.
As Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu commented the city now has the information needed to move ahead with the contract and she wouldn’t want to see that funding at risk.
In an interview following the meeting, Mayor Dan Curtis said he too did not want to lose federal funding for the project.
“This is a critical piece of infrastructure,” he said.
The new services building is planned to be built next to City Hall, where the current downtown fire hall sits. A new fire hall is currently being built that will replace the current fire hall which will be demolished once the new building opens.
As has been the practise in recent weeks due to COVID-19, Curtis was the only council member inside council chambers for the meeting with others attending by phone. A small number of senior management were also inside council chambers for the meeting.
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