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Red Deer County residents want audit of municpal operations

Public meeting set for Wednesday to discuss issues around county purchasing policy
A public meeting will be held Wednesday to discuss Red Deer County’s procurement policy. (Advocate file photo)

A group of Red Deer County ratepayers are holding a public meeting Wednesday to lobby the municipality to undertake a third-party audit of its operations.

“We want transparency on where our tax dollars are going,” said Mark Johansen, a member of an informal group of about 170 county residents who believe a review of the way the county goes about tendering projects is needed.

Johansen cited questions that arose around the tendering of underground services for the future site of a new EQUS development at Junction 42, a truck stop and commercial project near the Highways 2 and 42 interchange.

Eight bids were received and four were shortlisted and presented to council. The winning bid, including contingencies, was about $1.9 million, about 10 per cent higher than the county’s 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.

Johansen said county residents also have questions about the awarding of a series of other bids by county administration that do not require council approval because they are under $100,000. The group believes the tenders should be available for public review.

“At the end of the day if there is nothing going on the audit (will show) there is nothing going on. But we feel that there is something going on.”


Red Deer County councillors question purchasing policy

Coun. Christine Moore argued when the tendering issue first arose that council should be able to see all of the bids as part of its oversight role.

The issue prompted a review by administration and the county’s lawyer of the county’s procurement policy. Following that review, council was told a new procurement policy was coming. Under the new purchasing policy, council will no longer vote to approve tender awards as it did in the past. Instead, administration and its consultants will review and award tenders.

Moore fears the changes will water down council’s oversight responsibilities. She proposed a notice of motion at council’s June 27 meeting calling for a third-party review of the county’s procurement and purchasing policies.

After much debate, council voted to discuss the purchasing policy at a workshop. Moore’s motion was temporarily put on hold in the meantime.

Moore said she was asked to come to the meeting to explain why she brought her notice of motion forward.

“I think as elected officials we have an obligation to explain ourselves,” she said on Monday.

After receiving a legal overview of the new policy last week, Moore said she is more convinced than ever that council plays an important oversight role and must have a clear understanding — which she feels is currently lacking — of the county’s policy to defend it when questioned.

Purchasing and procurement amounts to 80 per cent of the county’s budget, she added. “It merits stringent oversight.”

She is encouraged that the public feel the issue is important enough for them to get involved.

“It’s always good to hear from the public.”

Coun. Lonny Kennett said he will be going to the meeting to hear residents’ concerns. A municipal lawyer provided background on the policy and a workshop last week, but it will be further discussed on Tuesday following council’s regular meeting.

“I’ve heard what the lawyers have said. But I’m also hearing what the ratepayers are saying. We sort of serve as their eyes and ears and I’m concerned that this new policy takes away from that direction.

Kennett said council does not need to be involved in the details of the tendering process. However, it should have a role in ensuring policies are followed correctly.

“We have no real oversight if that’s taken right out.”

Coun. Brent Ramsay said he will attend the meeting but since council has yet to debate or a decision on the new policy, councillors are limited in what they can tell residents.

“I don’t mind going through some facts and the processes where we’re at and how we got there. It’s still up in the air (as to) what’s going to happen.”

The public meeting is set for 7 p.m. at Spruce View Hall.

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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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