Approval process on sole-sourced contacts gets thumbs up from Regional committee –

The Region’s Public Works Committee is recommending council drop an interim procurement approval process for public works purchases exceeding $100,000.

Council voted for the interim procedures more than a year ago after Niagara Falls Reg. Coun. Bob Gale raised a series of public works procurement concerns. The temporary procedures include special monthly reports to councillors on the public works procurements.

The recommendation returns staff to the procedures set out in the Niagara Region’s procurement bylaw, which was reworked as recently as 2019. It also reins in some of the extra staff work needed to produce monthly reports for council. The reports will still be done on the quarterly basis set out in the bylaw.

Gale’s complaints and accusations roiled council and were tied to a pair of whistleblower investigations. The investigations ultimately cleared staff of any wrongdoing, but did find some lapses in the procurement process.

“I know staff are probably watching for my reaction to this,” Gale said before he voted to approve the motion. “I know we put this in place because we questioned some of the things that were happening last year.”

Gale said he liked a series of questions in the bylaw that need to be answered before sole sourcing is approved.

  • Is the original project objectives still achievable or should it be abandoned?
  • Can the project proceed as originally planned?

  • Is the work at a point where it can be terminated and a new competitive procurement for the additional items be initiated?
  • Is the addition of this new work to the current assignment still the best value?

“I am paraphrasing some of this, but as long as those are met, I’ll support it,” Gale said. “I was questioning whether they were met in the past, but I’m good with this now.”

It is generally believed that a competitive tendering process saves taxpayers money, however there are some exceptions.

One of the contracts that vexed Gale was for upgrades at the Region’s pollution control plant in Port Dalhousie.

A company that had its product installed at a different Regional plant cried foul when staff chose a competitor’s turbo blower for Port Dalhousie. The new blower technology was part of a pilot project to find which company’s technology best meets the Region’s needs, and therefore didn’t need to be tendered.

Gale’s campaign put the spotlight on the procurement bylaw, which is intended to balance effective approval control with the efficient utilization of Regional resources.

“I can tell you right now that our procurement team has been working all out to ensure that all the procurements that are necessary go out in a timely manner,” said Todd Harrison, the Region’s treasurer and commissioner of corporate services. “We’ve had reviews, and it is my feeling that we’ve met the challenges.

“We have implemented extra training for our procurement staff, and while I appreciate that councillors like this monthly report coming to public works, from my standpoint, it puts extra pressure on my team.”