And just how much spin do you get for $10,000 – probably not enough. It’s beginning to get interesting at the bottom of Brant Street.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  March 8, 2013  The city manager is reported to have put out a Request for Proposals on supplying of communications services to the city as they begin to prepare to tell the public about the status of the legal problems related to the construction of the Brant Street pier and the various law suits that are currently in the process of getting ready for a trial.

Councillor Marianne Meed Ward, the one council member who wanted to continue discussions with Henry Schilthuis and Sons Ltd.,  the contractor that walked off the job in early 2010 after doing everything they could to resolve the problems related to the construction,  which many feel began to come to the surface when the crane doing some work on the site toppled and some of the steel beams were badly bent.

The contractor had problems with this project the day he walked onto the site.

While the messy part of the discussions with the contractor took place during the Cam Jackson  council, Rick Goldring, the Mayor who replaced him, had to make decisions of his own to not continue with Henry Schilthuis and Sons Ltd. and put out a new tender which was awarded to Graham Infrastructure.

Goldring and his council had more than one opportunity to resolve the differences and bring a fresh approach to the construction project.  At the time the contractor, Henry Schilthuis and Sons Ltd., and the city were less than $3 million apart.    The increased cost of completing the pier and the legal costs exceed that $3 million by a considerable margin.

The construction is coming along very well and short of something cataclysmic the pier will be officially opened in June, perhaps as part of the Sound of Music Festival.

The node that will have an observation deck as well as a beacon that will soar 12 metres into the air is well underway. Railings that will prevent people from falling over are being fabricated – all should be ready for a Sound of Music festival opening.

Construction is on time – on budget, so they say – but there are all kinds of expenses being racked up that are not being talked about.

The most recent is a suggested $10,000 that wold come from the city manager’s budget for “communications services”, related to legal matters about the pier.

The legal spat between the city and Henry Schilthuis and Sons Ltd. is now at the discovery stage where more than half a dozen companies are involved.  The process of Examination for Discovery, which is when each side gets to see information the other side has as they prepare for a trial.

It is not unusual for the parties to, after having looked at the documents, decide that they should think in terms of talking a settlement rather than go through an expensive lengthy trial.

Tom Eichenbaum, Burlington’s Director of Engineering is a vital part of both the city’s claim against Henry Schilthuis and Sons Ltd. and its defense of the claim the contractor is making against the city. It is not a pleasant time for Eichenbaum.

Discover hearings have been going on for the last month and got extended recently when Henry Schilthuis and Sons Ltd., asked to be able to question the city’s Director of Engineering at more length.

It is believed there was one attempt to get into settlement discussions and that the opportunity to do so was presented to city council but they declined.

It is reported that city solicitor, Nancy Shea Nicol, told council that there was “no smoking gun” and that is believed to be true.  However there does appear to be a consistent number of incidents which when linked together amounts to a preponderance of evidence that does not look all that good for the city’s case.

The argument appears to be focusing on the design of the pier which was done by a local firm Totten Sims Hubicki (TSH) who also served as the project managers.  TSH was replaced by AECOM, a multi-national firm that does business in more than 115 countries.  Their taking over the original designer made them the designers of the pier and the contract manager – a basic conflict of interest that Meed Ward pointed out during her election campaign.

Our Burlington is advised that the legal fees for one of the parties for the month of February amounted to more than $360,000 – if that is what one party is paying one can assume that the city’s legal bill is in the same range.  And they haven’t gotten to trial yet.

With the city now looking for communications talent one can only assume that something is up.  You don’t bring in specialized communications people unless you’ve got a specialized communications problem.

Donna Kell, the city’s Manager of Public Affairs is accredited with the Canadian Public Relations Society, which makes her a  certified communications specialist – and that doesn’t seem to be enough for her to take on this communications task.

Clearly the city is getting ready to tell at least part of the story as it relates to the two court cases; the city is suing Henry Schilthuis and Sons Limited, and they in turn are suing the city.

Councillor Meed Ward may find herself in a situation that only she will be amused with if the spin the city wants to put on the pier and its legal problems looks like an attempt to hide something.

Meed Ward keeps in touch with the 596 fans on her Facebook page and has asked them what they think of all this.  Her comment was: “Since the city launched the lawsuit on the pier, many discussions relating to the previous contractor and design engineer; the details of the options to finish the pier; and the legal strategy and associated fees have been behind closed doors. When the lawsuit reaches resolution, what information are you looking for?

Penny Hersh:  I have to question a City Manager who feels it is appropriate to spend an additional $10,000.00 for a consultant to SPIN the truth that residents and taxpayers have a right to know. If the City is transparent this should not even be a consideration.

Russ Campbell : Is this one of those “nice-to-haves” in the city’s budget? Just shows how city hall wastes money. If we are farming out communications will we be cutting back on communications staff: “The city currently has a full-time manager of public affairs.

Kim Lalonde:  Curious as to how the building department didn’t keep better tabs on the project before it began and during to avoid the mistakes that happened ? Also the phrase you get what you pay for comes to mind since the cheapest bid was accepted on the original project.

Daniel Silverthorne:  Don’t waste 10,000 dollars….the day Jesus comes back is the day the pier will be completed.

Clearly not a lot of support for spending any more money – but the money will be spent.  The question that lurks out there is this:  who tipped off the Post.  This type of investigative reporting isn’t their style, they don’t cover some of the council committee meetings and are never seen at any of the advisory committee meetings.

The Post has been tipped off in the past and it has come up for discussion at closed council meetings.

What does all this mean?  Stick around – it is just beginning to get interesting – but you are going to have to listen closely and read between the lines.  The city will make all kinds of noise with the “grand” opening of the pier and slip in small news items late at night or on the weekend “explaining” what went wrong and how much it is going to cost.  When those questions come forward ask: Why didn’t you settle when you had the opportunity?  Which council member do you think was the loudest to argue against any settlement?

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