Notices of Motion need to be well thought out and well researched

Today I’m sure you heard that Council defeated Cllr. Farkas’ “urgent” notice of motion regarding the reporting of City payments over $10,000. That’s at least the narrative being pushed, but that’s not the case. The notice of motion itself was not defeated, it was more a defeat of the manner in which it was brought forward. While I see merit in the motion itself, though I have a number of questions, the way it was brought about as well as some of the language within the motion’s preface were intentionally inflammatory. We as Councillors have a duty to act in the best interest of Calgarians and the constant rhetoric and fear mongering being thrown around is not helping.

Councillors jobs are not to grab as many headlines as humanly possible and upset the masses through inflammatory remarks. We need to cut this populist style of politics out because it is not helping make the City better, which should be our goal.

Urgent notices of motion – and this should be obvious – should only be a tool used when a matter is truly urgent. Timeliness to a provincial report is not urgent. It’s political. Trying to force something through under the “urgent” tag to grab headlines and build a personal brand is not something that should be considered urgent by Council, regardless what the idea is. The “blue book” process is something that could have been introduced through the proper process, as this is not an issue that is costing the City money or causing the City or its citizens harm.

In addition, whoever brings forward a notice of motion should have put in the work and be able to answer a number of questions, such as:

  • What is the current process/policy?
  • How does this change the process/policy?
  • What is the benefit?
  • Who is this serving?
  • What will it cost?
  • What work is required and is it feasible?
  • Is this being addressed elsewhere?

The City currently has a process where contracts are put out to tender for bids. In general, the City issues bid opportunities for commodities, service and construction. For more information on the process, click this link to the City’s Bid Opportunities page. These are advertised through Merx Calgary and Alberta Purchasing Connection (APC). There are absolutely some issues with these channels. The Merx website can be cumbersome to navigate and requires an account to view some of the information, while the APC site requires an account to view anything. This makes it difficult for anyone in the public interested in awarded contracts to take a look.

I do have my own questions I will raise with Administration when this is discussed through the proper process. These opportunities are only advertised through these channels for goods and services contracts of $75,000 or more and construction contracts of $200,000 or more. I am curious if every project is in fact listed while I’m also interested in the retention policy. If you look at the awarded contracts on the Merx site, it only goes back to midway through 2015. Should retention be indefinite? Additionally, would Administration take the notice of motion to mean that every project now needs to go out to bid, or if projects below these thresholds simply need to be listed when they are paid?

There’s also the issue that the awarded value is often undisclosed. There may very well be reasons for not disclosing this information, such as if it’s a good or service that the City will need to continually buy and tipping off what the City has paid in the past could cost taxpayers more by pushing future bids up. However, I believe that more transparency is needed. Disclosing the values of these contracts should be the norm, not the exception. Then there’s the whole issue of APC requiring a login and, if contracts issued there, are they published elsewhere where the awarded contract is accessible. These are all issues that I would like to address, and will do so when this notice of motion comes back, through the proper process.

If the City is to establish a centralized reporting method, and it can be done simply at little to no cost, then it needs to be at a higher standard than the spreadsheets posted by the Province. These reports can hardly be considered as a standard of excellence in transparency. The reports published simply show a number, a payee (and in many cases the payee is a numbered company), and the department making the payment. No context is given about the payment, no description, nothing. Comparatively, while there are issues with the Merx website, at least you know what the project is. Spewing out numbers for the sake of spewing out numbers is not transparency. Here is an example of a provincial “blue book” spreadsheet:

Be honest. Is this helpful? If this is all the City is going to do, I don’t see the value as you are left with no idea what these payments are, what they were for, and if they were prudent. I’m not sure who this is designed to serve and where the benefit is. This doesn’t really help citizens or us as a Council.

I’ll raise these issues and questions when this comes forward and believe improved transparency can be beneficial to the City, but it needs to be done right and without the rhetoric. If we do post something along the lines of a blue book spreadsheet, it needs to be done to a higher standard than what the province is currently undertaking. The context of the project needs to be included, including what product or service has been purchased, what project (if applicable) it is serving, or what the purchase is for if it’s not related to one specific project, at a minimum.

I’ll be happy to discuss the merits of municipal expense disclosure and have a number of my questions answered to make sure that I am looking out for the best interests of Ward 12 residents and Calgary as a whole. I think there is merit in this proposal, however I don’t see the sense in making this an overtly political, inflammatory motion. This is a good idea, especially if it’s something that can be done as simply as updating a spreadsheet and hosting it on the website at no additional cost to taxpayers. But it should be brought forward through the proper process and does not need to be considered urgent.

As always, I welcome any other questions and constructive feedback which can be sent to me here.