Is City Hall a Disorganized Crime?

Is City Hall a Disorganized Crime?
Posted on October 24, 2014 | Alexander Aronec | Written on October 24, 2014
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Letter type:
Op-Ed

Author's Note:

Author's Note:

I did this up as a reply to James’ question from earlier today on Organized Crime and City Hall.  It took a life of its own on and I am posting it as a stand alone.

Let me begin by saying that notwithstanding the “Organized Crime” inference, these questions in reality are applicable to improving efficiency at City Hall. The premise of these questions seem to be originating from a Huffington Post article from 2 years ago according to James.  I think they are good questions for the most part if you take the “Mafia” implication out of them.

Sorry about any typos, layout or grammar – time is precious these days.

 Q: Would you improve transparency and accountability? If yes, how?

A: Yes, is the short answer. I would strive to achieve the goals through several parallel approaches. These are:

  1. Modifying the City Manager's contract terms to provide for a variable level of compensation based on defined performance factors;
  2. The creation of a Project Control Office accountable to Council;
  3. Reducing the use of consultants;
  4. Publish contract award and amendment information on the City website and linking the Lobbyist Registry to it

Modifying the City Manager's contract terms

I believe that the City Manager should be held accountable and responsible for those he has authority over. The compensation for that position is well over $300k/year.  What I would suggest is to pick up Mr. Kirkpatrick's contract option for 2015 and use that time to prepare to open up the position to competition in 2015 for 2016.

I would make the contract a base amount plus a variable performance based amount. For discussion let’s assume a $200k base salary and a $150k performance bonus. The performance amount would be calculated using a set of easily verifiable criteria, i.e. Big project A on time/on budget, Department B on or under budget AND achieved required service delivery levels. 

Council would be updated annually which projects; programs and departments were the highest dollar values and then select the top X from each list. For the sake of simplicity, I will say 15 in total and each has a value of $10k if the goal was met in performance compensation.

A factor tied to overall budget performance could be included as well, further incentivizing efficient performance. There are loads of options but this gives an idea on one formula. If somebody wants the job, they get those terms. Nobody is being forced to compete for the job.

The creation of a Project Control Office accountable to Council

I have been a proponent of a Project Control Office to be put in place as a set of independent eyes and ears to support Council.  This could comprise of a few, hopefully existing city staff, who have the desired set of legal, technical and project management skills. This group could potentially have saved a lot of cost  and other grief on files like Lansdowne, OrgaWorld, Carp Landfill, LRT and so on if it had been in place. Let them guide staff in using better, risk transferring contract methods such as incentivised contracts for better than specified performance, Nunn-McCurdy style warning triggers and have their reports published monthly if not more frequently to allow comment and discussion by the public before council meetings.

Reducing the use of consultants

I also am all for the reducing the use of consultants.  City staff seem to love to hide behind consultants and deflect blame to them. Consultants serve a useful purpose if used correctly. They either can bring expertise in or train staff to do the job themselves, or they can provide a one time needed knowledge and expertise reducing Staff's learning curve. City staff need to be identified on the City website as being the accountable or at least contact person for a contract, project or activity.

Publish contract award and amendment information on the City website

I would publish not only all contract awards but also a history of contract awards to the same firm or organization or group. This would allow anyone to identify who is getting what dollars and why. This would include contract amendments and changes as those are an easy vehicle to sneak things through contractually. I would link the Lobbyist Registry to this system [if it is not already] to show when activity occurs on behalf of a contract/contractor etc.

Q: Do you think there should be a police investigation into the OrgaWorld contract based on the Auditor’s report?

A: The question infers that something illegal happened. From what I have read, there was a significant amount of poor decision making. I would give OrgaWorld and perhaps Plasco to the Project Office group and let them dissect it. If they were to uncover something illegal looking, The RCMP Commercial Crime unit would likely be a good asset to engage along with OPS.

Q: Should a special organized crime unit be created within the Ottawa Police to investigate suspicious activities at City Hall?

A: My comment on this is as for the previous question. Until there is suspicion or the hint of proof of this type of activity I believe this would be counterproductive, a waste of OPS resources, intrusive to City and Council staff and could lead to a McCarthy type situation (Joseph, not Charlie).

Q: Would you support a ban on all corporate and union campaign donations to municipal candidates?

A: I would not limit donations BUT in saying this I would link all donations to every Council member to contracts and the Lobbyist Registry. Let me give an example to show how it could have worked. 

In 2010, four Council incumbents received donations from Rideau Carleton Raceway, according to records on the City website.  Eli El-Chantiry was one of the four.  Under my system, a conflict of interest would have been flagged and the four would have been excluded from the vote on the Casino location.

Q: Would you ban all sole-sourcing contracts?

A: I would not ban sole source contacts but I would make the hoops to jump through much more difficult. There are occasions where there may be only one person or resource capable of addressing the need. I would make the one recommending the sole source procurement justify why and have a policy in place that mandates every sole source contract be reviewed for validity and necessity AND both the results and the requisitioning/approval personnel identified on the city website.

Q: Do you think the City’s lobbyist registry is stringent enough? If not, how can it be strengthened?

A: I have identified a lot of ideas above. There needs to be an enhancement on penalties and enforcement to give it more teeth.  One example might be to identify a Councillor or the Mayor who has been lobbied where a conflict of interest could occur and Council decide if they should be excluded from the vote/debate.

Q: Would you call for a return to taking full meeting minute’s at all Council meetings so there is a written record of what has been said and by whom?

A: I fully support a written, audio and video record of all Council meetings.  For “in Camera” sessions, I would like to see an impartial authority [a City of Ottawa ombudsman?] make the decision and be empowered to release some or all of the discussion after it occurs.

Q: Would you re-instate the public advisory committees' right to criticize staff and council when they believe they are not acting in residents best interests, as many of them did on the Lansdowne Live file?

A: The Project Control Office would have been mandated to review all of the documentation on files like this and would have derisked the fact that council members like Eli didn’t read all of the documents before the Lansdowne vote. I believe that the public should express their concerns to Council but efficiently.  It is not time efficient having 18 people restate the same comment just to hear themselves speak. Prepare a brief document and submit it in advance of Council meeting.

Q: Would you back a call for real governance experts to investigate how public consultation can best be integrated into the City’s decision making processes?

A: ”Real Governance Experts” sounds like consulting to me.  My comments on consultants are above. There are courses given by firms in town on Governance and sending a few City Staff who know the current process would be a cost effective way to do things.

Q: Should Ottawa, the largest geographical municipality in Canada, use a borough or community council like Toronto has done, to help ensure city decisions reflect the interests of the residents who will be affected the most?

A: In 2010, Blake Batson posed this question and I responded no to it as it would likely result in the urban/suburban wards amalgamating rural wards. NIMBY.

Q: What ideas do you have to ensure real, meaningful debate takes place around the Council and subcommittee tables and that decisions are made in public view rather than behind closed doors?

A: Better dissemination of the process and content of Council meetings, perhaps using Rogers TV?  [I do not get Rogers so I cannot speak to whether they are televised].  Video stream them?  I would love this for Ward 5.

 

Please visit my website at www.aronec.ca  to see what I believe is the best defined, thought out and viable candidate platform in Ward 5.  The decision you make when you vote is important so please take a few minutes and make an informed and not “Miss Congeniality” based decision.  

 

About The Author

AlexanderAronec's picture

Wanna-be Industrialist, Civic Society Participant , Ward 5 Municipal Candidate