What we have here is a failure to communicate…

… you should have read what I’d written on this originally, but a walk with the dogs and Mrs. Scoop managed to give me some perspective…

This is not about the quality of the buildings, but as Councillor Keith Hull suggests, it does lead to more questions about the process town hall used to make a decision to spend $13 million without issuing a request for proposals.

Here’s the thing: whether the decision to not go with the Sprung Shield is right or wrong (though those concerned with issues of liability would likely disagree) is not the issue here — and I would be inclined to side that it was the right decision, and it saved us about $80,000. We are not Detroit. The worst those buildings will face is graffiti – and I can attest that it does come off pretty easily, after noting workers were able to clear the paint away pretty quickly last Tuesday after the arena was tagged.

The problem arises, though, when it comes to telling anyone else the decision had been made…

Why, why, for the love of Sin, was council provided with marketing information related to the Sprung Shield. Why were they given a presentation on the Sprung Performance Arena, which in the company’s own material, “includes” the Sprung Shield? Why was the ‘oranges vs. oranges’ chart presented to council?

Former CAO Ed Houghton says the Sprung Shield was not directly referenced by staff during the presentation on Aug. 27, 2012. That is true. I’ve watched the DVD of the council meeting a couple of times now, and can confirm. What Houghton said, when the chart was displayed on the screen to council, was the buildings were “virtually vandal-proof in every way.”

No mention of the Sprung Shield.

Now, I’m still trying to gauge which was worse when it came to the newsletter sent out to the community with the cross-section diagram of the Sprung Shield. Deputy-mayor Rick Lloyd’s casually dismissed including the cross-section diagram of the Sprung Shield in the newsletter on the basis the average person couldn’t tell what it was a diagram of — “This didn’t send a wrong message to the community, unless you knew, but there’s no way the general public would know. It’s not misrepresenting what was bought at all,” is what he said to me last week.

For him to shrug off the fact the public was given misinformation on the basis they wouldn’t know what it was in the first place is a bit of an insult to the taxpayers of Collingwood.

On the other hand, Councillor Ian Chadwick – who helped put the newsletter together – told me, rather matter-of-factly, he just pulled the graphic from Sprung’s website. No thought, it seems, to whether or not it was relevant. And it’s not like someone can just randomly pick graphics off that company’s website without understanding what they depict; it’s pretty clear the diagram is on a page that says ‘Sprung Shield’ (see link above…)

The municipality has a responsibility to ensure the information it provides residents is clear, concise, and forthright. Presenting them with a diagram that is not applicable in any way, shape or form doesn’t meet that test. It would be like me writing something that was inaccurate, only because I was too lazy to double-check my facts.

(By the way, if I publish something that’s inaccurate, I’m held to account, and required to publish a correction, clarification, or, if I’ve really f—ed up, an apology. Just sayin’. But that goes to credibility… and having spoken to a couple of ‘those in the know’ on such communications issues this week, I’ve been told actions in similar circumstances would lead to either a letter going in the employee’s file — if they were relatively new and didn’t know better — to a firing…)

Other thoughts…

• I can appreciate Councillor Chadwick’s comments, expanded upon here, about council involvement in this type of discussions. However, there could be issues that arise with the involvement of a municipal council member in procurement matters, as explored by the Bellamy Report into the Toronto computer leasing scandal:

Councillors should separate themselves from the procurement process. They should have no involvement whatsoever in specific procurements. They have the strongest ethical obligation to refrain from seeking to be involved in any way.

While it was determined the recommendation Bellamy provided conflicted with current City of Toronto policy, at the same time — through some double-checking on my part — the level of involvement in this situation by the deputy-mayor could be considered a no-no under the Toronto rules. Again, from the Bellamy Report:

…actual procurements should be carried out entirely by staff to ensure that they are resolutely apolitical… Even the noblest motives do not justify councillors’ involvement in the procurement process. The risk is far too high that the appearance will be one of political interference.

The Toronto computer leasing scandal is, of course, an extreme example, but still a cautionary tale for other municipalities to take note of.

Yes, municipal councillors are part of the process, but their piece is to set policy and direction, to provide vision – as a body of council, of course. It is not to engage in day-to-day operations – which could include negotiations with a potential supplier.

(I find it interesting Chadwick notes: “The DM could hear the arguments pro and con, and raise questions and concerns so that at least the presenters might be able to prepare for possible questions or objections from the table. Staff can make sure these salient points get included in any presentation.” It’s funny – or ironic – because the topic of the Sprung Shield was never presented at the council table, as noted above…)

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