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Where are the tenders?

Town of Pelham hasn’t produced required tender documents

BY VOICE STAFF

Nearly three months after the Voice first requested tender documents for work worth millions of dollars in East Fonthill, the Town has not complied with a freedom of information request (FOI).

“Tendering” is a process by which companies can bid on the contract for a project. It is Town policy that any project greater than $10,000 dollars must be formally tendered, and that any project over $25,000 must be approved by Council.

$2.5 million dollars for the construction of Summersides Drive was approved in the 2016 capital budget. A further $2.1 million dollars was approved in the 2017 capital budget for Summersides. $1.3 million was approved in the 2017 budget for servicing in East Fonthill.

All of this work was to be carried out under an agreement the Town signed with the Allen Group, a major East Fonthill developer. In this agreement, obtained by the Voice through a separate FOI request, engineering firm Upper Canada Consultants was named as responsible for the tendering process for work done in East Fonthill.

“All Requests for Tender are to be issued by UCC to selected contracts on an invitation to tender basis,” reads the contract. “There shall be a minimum of three Requests for Tender issued for each of the services tendered. All bids received in response to the Request for Tender shall be opened in the presence of representative of UCC, the Town, and Fonthill Gardens…A successful bid must have the approval of both Fonthill Gardens and Council of the Town of Pelham prior to the award of the contract.”

Late last year, employees of a Niagara construction firm approached the Voice with concerns about this tendering process. According to these employees, whose names the Voice has agreed to withhold, neither they, nor any acquaintances of theirs in the construction industry, had the opportunity to bid on the projects.

Instead, they asserted, one firm—Alfred Beam Excavating—has done all the work.

After these sources came forward, the Voice filed a series of FOI requests. In early February the newspaper requested copies of all tender requests and corresponding bids for work done in East Fonthill. There are supposed to be at least three bids for each project.

The newspaper also requested copies of Council resolutions approving each of these bids, approval which is required by the contract.

None of these documents have been provided to date.

FOI requests must be responded to within 30 days. On March 7, Town Clerk Nancy Bozzato informed the Voice that the Town would be exercising a clause in the freedom of information act that allowed it an additional 30 days to respond. Bozzato asserted that the Town needed time to review records, and required the newspaper to deposit $75 dollars.

More than 60 days since Bozzato’s letter, the Town still has not complied with the FOI request and has produced neither the tenders nor the Council resolutions approving the awarding of contracts.

A former Town Hall staffer familiar with how Town records are kept, said that documents are generally stored on computers and are easily accessible.

“They would only have to go to the folder and press ‘print,’” said the former staffer. “It should take about five minutes.”

Though Bozzato is ostensibly responsible for FOI requests, the former staffer asserted that in practice it is CAO Darren Ottaway who controls the flow of information.

“They are just pushing everything off to the election.”

UCC’s Jason Schooley, who, according to UCC’s Adam Keane, handled the tendering for the Town, did not respond to or acknowledge questions about the tendering process.

The construction firm employees who came to the Voice asserted that the apparent absence of tendering for the projects runs contrary to standard practice.

“There’s no checks or balances on the pricing,” said one. “This is information that you should be able to get at the counter [in Town Hall]. It should be available on the website—it should be public. You shouldn’t have to pay for it. They are hiding something. You don’t just pay all that money without a paper trail.”

The two said that they don’t understand why these projects weren’t open for bidding from more contractors.

“Why would you ever want [to have fewer bids]?” they said, explaining that competition between firms ensures that the Town has work done at lower prices.

“When we put in a proposal for a project, we come to a [price]. Then we take a little off. Then we look, and take a little more off, and hope that we can get it,” they said.

“We’re not just bitter construction people upset we didn’t get a job. We don’t get every job. That’s how things go. But we always have a chance—that’s the way it’s supposed to work.”

They said that without seeing the projects they couldn’t provide an estimate for the work done, but said that the budgeted figures approved by the Town seemed high.

“There’s something wrong here—that much work and no tenders.”

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The Voice of Pelham
Pelham's independent news source from the heart of Niagara.