Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What 400 Building Audit

Is it just me or have you, dear reader, noticed that there is a strange stench in the air around City Hall.

It does not seem like the smell of garbage not picked up since the CUPE strike or the odours that may or may not come from the Zalev site depending with whom you are speaking or the pollution spewing out from the unscrubbed exhaust from the Tunnel ventilation building.

It is more like the Hamlet-type rotten smell.

Or maybe I am wrong. There may be a simple explanation available that no one has heard yet that will clear the air quickly.

I am more confused than ever before right now with respect to the 400 Building and Furniture audits.

I thought I understood everything and the Audit Reports that came out explained everything fully. After all, we taxpayers spent about $700,000 with experts from KPMG and from the law firm of Miller Thomson who assisted our Internal Auditor, or is it our Auditor General Office now, to come up with these volumes of shocking reports.

Little did I know, until after reading the letter from Vindella’s lawyer, that they were compliant. Here is a copy of it

Little did I know that the Auditors never saw the letter to Eagle suggesting that they won the bid for some of the Furniture.

  • “City staff have agreed to meet with one of the losing bidders of a $1.6-million contract connected to the controversial 400 City Hall Square building.

    Angela Berry, the city's lead internal auditor, said Paul Fields, president of Eagle Office Furniture, had offered new information during a presentation he made to council Monday night and deserved to be heard.

    "I'm in shock with the information that was not included in this report,"

Amazingly though, Ms Critchley, now the City Clerk and formerly in Purchasing, was able to run out of the Council Chambers and return with the letter in 5 minutes. Strange that it was never forwarded on to the Lead Auditor. Almost sounds like a repeat of the 11 boxes fiasco doesn’t it. No problem though, no one at Council seemed concerned.

Of course, there was scrambling around telling us how the “lowest compliant” bidder on the furniture as stated in the letter, according to Mr. Fields, really wasn’t necessarily the one who was going to get the contract. Some silly excuse about writing on a City letter to Eagle “without prejudice” that was in my opinion “with prejudice” because the City was trying to get a firm price from Eagle. Then there was something else about a 120 day period expiring which is an easy way to destroy a fair bidding system. A judge would have fun with that one

But let us come back to the big dollar item, the building itself.

Now Vindella’s lawyer, Mr. Martini, is a well-respected litigator in town. He was at Council to answer questions but surprisingly none were posed to him. I am sure that he would not send off a letter claiming compliance by Vindella unless he had done his due diligence.

Accordingly, the only thing that I can conclude, if he is correct, is that someone at City Hall has it in for the Company and wants to destroy its reputation as a result of the comments made in the Audit Report. It was payback time for something. The underlined portion of his letter suggests that Mr. Martini came to the same conclusion as I.

Clearly, if what Mr. Martini says is right, the Lead Auditor, the KPMG forensic accounting people and the outside Toronto lawyers were completely misled and that is why the Report came out the way it did.

How that could possibly happen needs to be investigated thoroughly by the police, a judicial inquiry or by the Auditor General Office itself since it has the power to have people testify under oath. I would think that Mr. Martini has no choice on behalf of his client but to demand it. This is serious business.

If the Star through mini-Gord can tell us that we have a corrupt Councillor, then in effect, Mr. Martini’s letter is telling us that there is an element of corruption in City Hall that needs investigating immediately in order to be cleaned out now.

In passing, I got tired of Mr. Roman telling us how much it would cost to do an inquiry. How much will it cost us NOT to do one is the real question. And as for his comments about the “oath” not meaning all that much…well it means something to me. I personally would not lie while under oath to take the fall for someone and risk going to jail for perjury.

Let us assume for the sake of argument that Vindella was not compliant. That is not a smear on that company. It just means that they did not meet the terms and conditions of the RFP. That happens all the time in bids.

Then, the question that is unanswered and must be, unlike watching the childish game being played between the Mayor and Councillor Halberstadt over questions at Council, was the one asked by Councillor Lewenza:

  • How did non-compliant parties—furniture and building-- win the deals when they should have been disqualified instead?

That issue suggests perhaps, as one alternative, corruption of a different kind doesn’t it that has nothing to do with the contractor. It all has all to do with City Hall. And for that we need a thorough third party investigation! After all as Councillor Halberstadt, a member of the Audit Committee, said:

  • “Rather than defending his conduct, ex Councillor Carlesimo should be thankful that the audit committee did not recommend to Council a full-blown Public Inquiry. Then he and the other members of the selection committee would have been put under oath... ”

The saving taxpayers money excuse that was put forward as a possible reason seems to me a phony one and does not hold water at all. Mady should have won if that was the case!

  • “The three city councillors who made up a subcommittee that broke city rules during selection of a contractor for the 400 CIty Hall Square building should be regarded as "heroes" and not have been made scapegoats in an audit of the $32.5-million project, one of the subcommittee members said Tuesday.

    "Our only interest was taxpayers," said Peter Carlesimo, a former city councillor who sat on the subcommittee that came under fire in the audit…

    "What happened when we did the matrix it raised some questions on the low scores for Vindella," he said. "But what jumped out was they were the lowest by $2.3 million. Because of the spread we needed to be convinced on whether the lowest bidder could do the job." It was for that reason that Vindella was contacted after the deadline, he said.

    "We acted in good faith and acted in trying to bring the project in at the lowest price to council," Valentinis said. "I know what we did. We will be taking a lot of heat, but I also know a microscope was on this. Our mandate was there to keep price as the focus and we did that. We are talking $2.3 million here."

Heroes? Read Page 108 of the Audit Report.

If the Mady bid was $28 per square foot lower than that of Vindella, then the City overspent by millions of dollars. Now THAT is worthy of an investigation don’t you think!

The guy now who should be furious is Chuck Mady! It seems that someone went out of their way to make sure he did not win. Why? Who had it in for him? He got smart though…he left town soon thereafter.

Interestingly, the Audit Report devoted little attention to his bid. I never understood why.

This whole episode stinks. I have raised other concerns in other BLOGs about how this matter has been treated and the roles that some members of Council played that to me are not understandable.

As I said, perhaps there is a simple explanation that tells us all. I would love to hear it. It cannot be done now since Council has washed its hands of this matter.

Oh well, Councillor Gignac is happy that the recommendations passed make everything OK. Rest assured now fellow Windsorites. All is well.

At least until the Arena audit! If we ever have one.