Sitting in the council chambers this past January 21st, I was taken aback when a staff recommendation to accept a proposal for Integrity Commissioner services submitted by Mr. Robert Swayze did not pass muster with Sarnia City Council. Mr. Swayze was the lowest bidder of four identified proponents for the position, with the highest evaluation score.
Councilor George Vandenberg called into question the letting of the RFP, indicating that no such document had come before council for passage, nor did he think the advertising for the RFP was acceptable as some of the lawyers in town (new and brilliant) weren’t aware of the offering. What the Councilor did not realize was that RFPs do not require council’s blessing to be let. It the duty of staff. This fact was borne out by our Acting CAO Alan Shaw. CAO Shaw also indicated that the RFP was sent to some 6000 possible bidders. As well, Council received notice of the RFP process during an orientation meeting on November 26, 2018. No related questions were put forward.
The RFP was answered, and included one Sarnia lawyer and three others. Perhaps 6000 people viewed the document. The fact that even one solicitor put forward a bid is indicative that other Sarnia members of the bar also had the option of bid submission.
The letting of RFPs comes under the umbrella of the City’s Procurement of Goods and Services Policy of March 23, 2015. Within the policy is a section referred to as Ethical Standards. The contents of this policy include the need to be impartial and objective when dealing with those in the Procurement process, demanding assurances there is no favoritism or special privileges provided to vendors and contractors. Adherence to legal, ethical and moral responsibilities by civic employees is part of the overall criteria. To expect favor to Sarnia lawyers, new or not, is unquestionably unethical. Neither Council nor Staff are babysitters. Regular monitoring of the bidsandtenders.com site, etc. is what is required to see what new government position may be available.
At the end of the day Councilor Vandenberg made a “submission” that the I/C RFP item be removed from the agenda and be returned to staff for a “new proposal”. A “submission” is not a motion (IMO). The Mayor called for a seconder, to which Councilor Bird responded positively. The erroneous makeup of Councilor Vandenberg’s “submission” then passed.
The present Integrity Commissioner Robert Swayze, low bidder to the lost RFP, has a history with Sarnia and a few of our present councilors. Margaret Bird issued a complaint to Mr. Swayze, the City’s IC back in 2016. Mr. Swayze dismissed the complaint by Ms. Bird, and informed her of his decision by confidential e-mail as per the Municipal Act. Ms. Bird aired her complaint publicly. Commissioner Swayze thus noted that a presentation made by Ms. Bird to the previous Sarnia Council (before her present council position) to be “deliberately inflammatory and confrontational by your choice of words…” His report was dated November 28, 2016.
Councilor Boushy also had a complaint leveled against him, for divulging information from an In-Camera meeting. While Mr. Swayze found Councilor Boushy to be out of line, it was his view that no penalty be imposed.
Mayor Bradley also has history with Robert Swayze. Swayze authored a report containing references to the Mayors’ behavior towards employees, and also his meeting behind closed doors with union officials regarding City business. Due to his findings, Swayze recommended that the mayor be docked salary for ninety days. My point here is that Boushy and Bird voted for the “submission” by Councilor Vandenberg, while having a possible bias and conflict with the RFP favored bidder, our present I/C Robert Swayze.
It is also my contention that Bradley abrogated his Mayoral responsibilities as the Head of Council. Bradley is well aware, or should be after thirty years, how the RFP process works. Yet he allowed council to vote on an issue that should not have been an issue. Quite frankly it was clear at the meeting that Councilor Vandenberg’s oration on the RFP was full of holes. There was ample notification of the RFP. Staff followed the City’s protocol for releasing the document, and again did their solid duty in ensuring the evaluation of the bids was completed correctly. Their recommendation that Robert Swayze be accepted as the incoming I/C followed the dictates of the procedure. What the mayor should have done is counsel the Councilors that there was no merit to Councilor Vandenberg’s arguments, and let the decision of staff go through. If, after thirty years, the mayor did not understand the process of RFP, he should have deferred to staff as to the misgivings of Vandenberg towards the process, who I am certain would have responded correctly, and therefore led council to decide correctly. Perhaps the relationship between the Integrity Commissioner and Bradley clouded the mayor’s actions. Perhaps bias and a conflict of interest exist. Regardless, all three of the councilors, (Boushy, Bird, and Bradley) should have recused themselves from participating in the “discussion.” It may be too late to reverse Council’s ill-gotten decision. We will have to bide our time to see if there are any ramifications.
Whatever happens, the Mayor did not follow through. He let the Council down, and in a precarious position. And his decision has put the onus on staff to virtually replicate what was a legitimate RFP exercise. As a result, has the RFP process been made irrelevant?
Could I be wrong on this? Perhaps…but I’m likely not. All of the evidence speaks for itself.