By John McPhee
A Walkerton businessman is accusing Brockton officials of favouritism and running “an old boys network” in the way it handled the contract to construct an LED sign at the East Ridge Business Park.
Darren Holm, owner of Holm Graphics, went before council Monday saying he felt “particular frustration” in how the municipality went about requesting quotes for the sign, which council had budgeted $50,000 to build.
Holm repeatedly told council that they hadn’t followed the municipality’s own procurement policy which stipulates that any contract above $10,000 must be tendered.
Instead Brockton’s Economic Development Committee sent out a “Request for Quote”, but, according to Holm the request was placed “in the bowels of the municipal Website” and on a subscription based Website which requires businesses to pay $250 in annual dues in order to see the requests.
Holm said he only heard about the RFQ when a colleague from Toronto called to ask where Brockton was, just one-and-a-half days before the June 8 deadline.
He noted that only four companies replied to the RFQ representing just 0.26 per cent of the sign businesses in Ontario which Holm said was not “an appropriate level of response for a contract of this size”. Two bidders were from the GTA, while Holm Graphics and Cox Signs of Walkerton, were the other two. Holm also alleges Cox Signs, which won the bid, actually had input into creating the specifications for the sign and the RFQ.
Minutes of the March 20 EDC meeting report that Brockton clerk Debra Roth “has prepared and circulated a draft letter for Committee review. Cox Signs will be asked to provide a sketch to be circulated with the letter which will be sent to business park property owners asking for their support in the erection of the structure and commitment to advertising.”
Holm told The WHT that that sketch was not included in the RFQ. As such, his quote was considerably higher than Cox Signs, which won the contract at $31,278 plus HST.
“This just smells bad from the get-go,” Holm told council. “Nobody gets to see it, (the RFQ) was hidden from me. It’s an old boys network trying to slide it under the door.”
Holm also complained that in the 14 months that his business has been open, he has received no jobs or requests for quotes from the municipality whereas Cox Signs has had 28 jobs totalling more than $24,000.
He asked council to re-tender the sign, which was supposed to have been installed by mid-August, but the only work visible to date is a hole in the ground.
Brockton Mayor David Inglis told Holm there was nothing devious in their dealings.
“I know for a fact there’s no intent to be disrespectful to you or your business,” he said, adding he didn’t think the municipality “can go back”.
Roth told council that the decision was made for the less formal RFQ over a tender because “we wanted to add some creativity thrown into the mix”. She said a tender is for something specific.
EDC chair Mike McIntee, who attended the meeting, said the committee “always (tries) to be transparent. There was nothing unethical, nothing old boys… the bottom line is everyone got to put in a bid/quote,” he said, noting that Holm’s bid was $30,000 more than the winning quote from Cox.
Coun. Chris Peabody said he shares in the responsibility for procedures not being followed. “I knew that $10,000 is the threshold (to tender).” He questioned how the municipality can improve awarding smaller projects so that “there’s equity”.
After the meeting Peabody told The WHT that the ball was dropped by council and the EDC. “Council should have said it needed to be tendered, we should have known better. Ten thousand is ten thousand, period. It’s a mistake we made.”
However, McIntee won’t accept any of the blame for the project not being tendered.
“We have two councillors and the mayor on the committee who advise us on procedures,” he said, adding no one said the RFQ was going against the procedural policy.
McIntee also said it’s council who decides on awarding contracts. “They make the decisions, we only make recommendations and they don’t always accept those recommendations,” he said.
The mayor promised Holm that they would reply to his concerns in the near future. After the meeting he told reporters that he actually thought the project was tendered. “I thought it was appropriate,” he said of the process.
Holm, who has filed a complaint with the Ombudsmen’s Office, told media he wasn’t sure what his next step will be if council rejects his request for a re-tender.
“I haven’t thought that far ahead yet,” he said.