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Red Deer County councillor calls for review of purchasing policy

Council decides to defer purchasing debate until July 25
Red Deer County Coun. Christine Moore proposed a notice of motion on Tuesday calling for a third-party review of county procurement policies. (Advocate file photo)

A Red Deer County councillor is calling for an independent review of how tenders are reviewed and awarded.

Coun. Christine Moore introduced a notice of motion at Tuesday’s council meeting calling on council to “conduct a third-party review of our procurement and purchasing policies including consultation with all stakeholders and to research best practices.”

The issue arose last January when council was considering tenders for underground services for the future site of new EQUS offices, shop and storage yard at Junction 42.

Tenders closed on Dec. 22 with eight compliant bidders. After review by county consultants Al-Terra Engineering Ltd., four bidders were shortlisted. They were chosen based on an evaluation system that looked at their experience, including work on similar projects, and ability to meet the Sept. 15 completion deadline among other factors. The dollar amount of the bid was not considered at that stage.

Of those shortlisted, Northside Construction Partnership had the low bid of just under $1.8 million, which increases with contingencies to a total budget of $1.9 million — about 10 per cent higher than the county’s initial budget estimate.

However, at least one of the unsuccessful bidders had reached out to members of council to say they could have done the work cheaper.

Moore questioned at that time why council could not see all eight tenders in keeping with its oversight role.

Council’s concerns prompted a legal review of the county’s procurement policy by its lawyers. Following that review and after further discussion with council and administration a report and new draft policy has been prepared and will be debated at the July 11 meeting.

In a debate that sometimes grew heated on Tuesday, Moore emphasized that her motion was about bringing clarity to how the county goes about choosing winning tenders.

“I want to be clear. This is about transparent processes and policies and not about people,” said Moore in introducing her notice of motion. “This is not about council looking at tenders and choosing contractors, it’s about oversight, which is our duty as the elected body of Red Deer County.”

In an interview, Moore said she does not believe council got the answers it needed when the EQUS project tendering was questioned.

“Council wanted to learn about that process, but instead we were presented with a policy that took that oversight away,” she said.

“This is something that is a normal process. But the fact that administration wanted to remove us, it was a red flag to me,” she said.

Moore said she was told that council has oversight through its budget approval powers. “For me, the budget is a different process.”

Council voted to defer debate on the notice of motion until the July 25 meeting

County manager Curtis Herzberg said based on legal advice the policy was revised so that council approval was not required to award a winning tender. It is a process already in place in many municipalities and is intended to ensure that the tendering process is not at risk of being affected by political considerations.

Administration would oversee and award tenders that fell within the council-approved budget for the project. However, if tenders came in over-budget, the project would be taken back to council to approve more money or direct administration to modify or nix the project entirely, said Herzberg.

Coun. Philip Massier said until council has had a chance to discuss the new policy, Moore’s motion was premature. He also said he could not support it because the motion lacked specifics on what a third party was to review and its cost.

Mayor Jim Wood also questioned the need for a third-party review when council is about to see a new procurement policy.

The county had discussed its procurement procedures as part of an overall review of county operations with its auditors already and no problems were found, said Wood, who was attending remotely from Europe where he had recently attended the Paris Air Show as part of a delegation pitching the merits of Red Deer Regional Airport as a transportation hub.

“We do not need an extensive third party to be a duplication of a council audit committee. Sadly, the motion before us today may lead some to believe we have a tendering problem and that is unfounded.”

“Council does not open tenders because we do not want to leave any perception of political interference.”

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Paul Cowley

About the Author: Paul Cowley

Paul grew up in Brampton, Ont. and began his journalism career in 1990 at the Alaska Highway News in Fort. St. John, B.C.
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