What began as a question around the city’s purchasing choices for bedding plants ended in lengthy — and heated — debate, as Whitehorse City Council voted down a motion to proactively open the city’s procurement policy to changes, while that same policy is under review.
The motion was brought forward by Coun. Dan Boyd during the March 18 standing committees meeting and voted on at the March 25 regular council meeting.
Boyd’s motion came as the result of several concerns that were raised surrounding the city’s procurement of bedding plants. Local plant nursery The Greenhouse at Cliffside lost the bid for the project to an Outside contractor because its bid was $250 higher than the competitor’s.
The city’s procurement policy is presently under review, and a draft is expected to come before council in the next thirty to sixty days. The current version doesn’t have a component which favours local companies for straight-forward product purchases, such as bedding plants.
“I believe we are missing out on an opportunity … to adjust the system to correct for local procurement,” Boyd said.
Boyd’s motion proposed that city staff “be directed to review all potential tenders being considered between the present and the conclusion of the review process,”and that “administration be directed to present recommendations to council on the best method to use when proceeding with individual tenders,” the report presented to council read.
Essentially, Boyd told the News in a post-meeting interview, this meant council and staff would look at procurement on a case-by-case basis and would be asked to provide suggestions on how the procurement process could be improved while the city worked on the policy.
Boyd said the review is happening far too slowly as it could be “until September” before actual changes to the policy are approved. If that were so, this year’s local bidders might not be able to benefit from the glut of tenders the city puts out during the spring in the same way as they would if changes were made now.
The motion would have essentially allowed council to test out new ways of boosting local procurement, Boyd said, and made several suggestions — which were not part of the official motion — including not putting out certain types of procurement to open national bids.
In order to make that happen the city “would need to adjust the (procurement) policy prior to following through (on the review)” which would mean reworking the procurement policy while it is in the process of being reviewed, city manager Linda Rapp said.
At present, the rough schedule for the procurement policy review sees a draft of the policy presented to council sometime in April, director of corporate services Valerie Braga said, during which time there would be “outreach” to the management team at the city and training on the legal ins and outs of the document for staff and council.
A final draft of the policy would be expected some time in May, with meetings scheduled with the contractors and business associations to gather input on the policy. It would be “late June or early July” before that final draft would come before council for approval under the usual processes.
Any changes to that policy prior to that process, such as those Boyd was proposing, would have to be done without consultation with the business community in the meantime, skipping the sanctioned processes usually in place.
Concerns about the legality of such a measure were almost immediately raised by Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu and by Mayor Dan Curtis.
Curtis said he didn’t want to rush this process or run into the potential legal mire it could create if they did because “one squeaky wheel (The Greenhouse at Cliffside) is pissed off” because they didn’t get the contract they had bid on.
“If they were cheaper they would have won (the contract),” he said.
“I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” he added.
Boyd said that, with the length of time the review process was taking, the “baby would be out with the bath water already if we wait until September. “
Curtis asked Braga if the move would be “as innocuous as (Boyd) suggests.”
She said the process to make these changes now would be “lengthy” and she asked council to consider the “legal risks” to which they might be “exposing” themselves to.
“I am just a little bit worried about where this might go and the legal risk you might be (exposing) yourself and this corporation to,” she said.
Ultimately the motion was voted down three-to-four, with Boyd, Samson Hartland and Laura Cabott for and Curtis, Curteanu, Stephen Roddick and Jan Stick against.
“I was pleased council had a good, wholesome and healthy debate about it,” Boyd said, in an interview March 26, adding that that’s what council is for and how it’s supposed to work.
“We didn’t come up with any answers, but we’ll work on it.”
Contact Lori Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org