City re-jigs the organizational structure it will use to work with hospital staff on the re-development of JBMH.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  April 18, 2012

In a lengthy report to the Budget and Corporate Services committee we got a look at what was a rather messy and less than collaborative working relationship between the city and hospital officials.  The sticking point was the details behind what is called the “Contribution Agreement”  which is the document that will set out when, and under what circumstances, the city will send funds to the hospital for the re-development of the Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital (JBMH).

The city was not about to just write out million dollar cheques and blithely send money collected from taxpayers to the hospital. They wanted to know what the money would be used for.

Getting a contribution agreement in place between the JBMH and the city is proving to be very difficult - are egos getting in the way?

When the province decided back in 2008 that the community had to put up $120 million to pay for the re-development,  the city said it would put up $60 million and the hospital Foundation would raise $60 million.  The redevelopment project includes a new tower on the hospital site, new operating rooms and in-patient beds, a new intensive care unit, as well as renovations to diagnostic services and to the emergency department.  That “tower” will be part parking garage, several floors for the Halton McMaster Family Medicine unit and offices for the hospital foundation.  Expect them to get the top floor of the building with a fabulous view out over the lake.

Burlington is putting up $5 million additional dollars for the Family Medical space – that was part of the agreement that included the School of Business which was supposed to be in the downtown core but ended up on the South Service Road.

At a city council meeting last year,  JBMH President and CEO Eric Vandewall said the hospital would match the city’s  money “dollar for dollar”, which at the time seemed to satisfy city council.  But then it became less than clear as to just what the city’s money was going to be used for.  The hospital had not raised its share of the $120 million but it had an urgent need to put up a parking garage and the city got the sense that its money was going to pay for the building of that garage.  The city began to see a situation where it would pay for the building of a parking garage and then see the province plead poverty and cancel the re-development.

At that time there was no iron clad guarantee from the provincial government that the hospital re-development was really going to be fully funded.  Everyone was saying it was going to be funded – but there was nothing definitive from the province.

Councillor Craven chaired the meeting that had to manage a motion that drew three amendments - the motion from Meed Ward eventually lost.

The city put together a “working group”   that consisted of the Mayor, Councillors Craven and Meed Ward.  It later added the Mayors adviser, Frank McKeown to the team.  Problem with the working group was that it just didn’t work and people on the city side of things realized there had to be a structural change.  The mayor was increasingly being drawn into administrative level matters and it had the potential to do significant political damage.

The city began to realize that they needed some help as well,  and decided to bring in two levels of support.  A lawyer with the skill set and experience needed to deal with hospital construction contracts and a consulting firm that would advise the city on how to deal with Infrastructure Ontario, which is the organization that is actually going to handle the construction.

Burlington had learned some very valuable lessons from the construction of the Pier.  They did not have the talent or people with the very specific experience in putting together complex contracts on staff full time.  With the Pier they learned to bring in the outside help for the period of time it was needed.

The new organizational arrangement the city has put in place is designed to overcome the difficulties the city has had with the people on the hospital side.  On too many occasions the hospital cancelled meetings which, from the city’s perspective, were critical.  It was all about money, taxpayers money and Mayor Goldring was just not prepared to see the money roll out of city hall without knowing what was going to be done with taxpayers dollars .

It was Councillor Sharman who asked the tough question: Was every member of the "working" group working independently and in the best interests of the city? It wasn't and was disbanded with a new organizational structure put in place.

Councillor Sharman put things in perspective when he put a direct question to Goldring and Meed Ward asking:  “Are you satisfied that the working group provided objective independent representation that was in the best interests of the city and its taxpayers”.  Sharman clearly thought that the information that came out of the working group was not as objective or independent as it should have been.  Councillor Meed Ward blanched when the question was put to her.  The Mayor said that the new alignment between the city and the hospital was designed to overcome the problems.  Councillor Craven who was chairing the meeting didn’t say a word.

The working group developed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that was sent to JBMH last December.  A draft Contribution Agreement was received by the city from JBMH shortly after that.  City staff scheduled a series of meetings for January and February 2012 to begin negotiations with the hospital.

Prior to the first formal negotiation meetings, city staff met informally with JBMH staff to discuss the overall project time line, expectations of the parties and to identify if there were any significant areas of concern for JBMH.  City staff were advised that there were no major issues.  The city advised the hospital that it was fully behind the redevelopment, but that a thorough due diligence process was necessary prior to signing a contribution agreement in order to protect the taxpayers investment.

Shortly after JBMH staff advised that they had significant concerns with the draft MOU.  Specifically they were uncomfortable with any conditions related to the release of funds, given that not all factors related to project timing were within their control.  JBMH asked that the scheduled negotiation meetings in January be cancelled.

None of this was made public at the time.  The city continued to salt away taxpayers money and put out press releases saying all was well.

The city took the draft MOU and turned it into a Letter of Understanding (LOU), a document that endeavored to clarify the roles and responsibilities of both parties and sent that along to the hospital. JBMH then cancelled the negotiation meetings that were planned for February and didn’t respond to the LOU.

This is all very confusing to the average citizen who just wants to know that there will be a bed for them should they require medical attention – the average citizen would ask – “does all this really matter to me.  Let the people we hire work all this out.”

One can take that attitude, but had the Jackson administration and the one before it insisted on the hard nosed due diligence the Goldring administration is demanding – of the hospital now, the city wouldn’t have the mess it has had to go through with the Pier.  There is a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things.

Thus when Councillor Meed Ward put forward motion to take out the strategic consultants and cut back the amount for legal fees by more than half – the only vote she got was her own.  It was embarrassing and was pretty clear, look at what was wrong with the working group.

Councillor Meed Ward was in the very awkward position of being a member of city council and a member of the JBMH board and thinking the interests of both were the same.

What adds to the confusion in all this is that Meed Ward is a member of the hospital board.  It is difficult to see how she can be true to the interests of the hospital and true to the interests of the city at the same time.  She might say that the two are the same, which is a very naive view of the way different organizations work together. City manager Jeff Fielding pointed out to Council that in his 15 years as a city manager he had not handled deals at the $60 million level.  This is big stuff and we need to be very careful.

The original working group was tasked with seeking public input on the municipal contribution to the redevelopment of the hospital, coordinate communications with the public and ensure regular dialogue between the hospital and the city.  What transpired wasn’t so much dialogue but rather turf wars and consistent misunderstandings between the hospital and the city with the public being told next to nothing

The public didn’t get very many chances to say what it felt – other than they wanted a newer hospital.  The city fell down a little on letting its taxpayers know just how messy things had gotten.  The Mayor just kept putting out statements that the city was 100% behind the re-development of the hospital. His office  still has some things to learn about communicating.

However, the report that went to the city’s Budget and Corporate Services committee laid everything out, and while less than fully transparent, it does indicate that things were messy and getting worse so they put in a new organizational structure and asked for the technical and legal support they needed.

It was while this was being discussed that Councillor Meed Ward then proceeded to figuratively blow her brains out publicly when she chose to oppose two of the recommendations staff had come forward with.

While doing so she managed to create a situation where there were four different amendments in play and a chair that really wasn’t sure just where the proceedings were as he worked with his Clerk who slowly untangled the knot the committee had gotten itself into.  Meed Ward had a motion, Councillor Taylor had an amendment and Sharman had an amendment to the Taylor amendment.  It was beginning to look like a high school debating club.

The issues that were being debated were on the four recommendations set out in the report which were:

Retain a lead negotiator to draft the contribution agreement. The negotiator would have experience in provincial funding and would understand the role of Infrastructure Ontario and alternative finance projects.

Hire a strategic consultant to ensure a transparent, accountable and rigorous process for signing an agreement with the hospital.

Bring the planning portion of the hospital redevelopment—site plan approval—to City Council for discussion.

Disband the city’s hospital redevelopment working group.

The costs involved for the legal counsel and strategic counsel amounted to $50,000, which Meed Ward thought was far too much money.  She didn’t think the city needed anyone to tell then how to deal with Infrastructure Ontario but that if there were questions to be answered then Infrastructure Ontario would send some people out to talk to Council.

Scott Stewart did point out the Infrastructure was not exactly a neutral party in all this.  He got that right.  Infrastructure Ontario is going to spend the $60 million taxpayers are going to come up with and the city wants their own expert helping them through this.  No more pier type mistakes.

Meed Ward wanted to do away with the strategic council that was recommended and wanted to cut back by much more than half the amount staff felt was needed for the legal help.

Mayor Goldring was beginning to be damaged politically by the differences with the executive level at the hospital. He wasn't able to say there were problems that were not being resolved without sounding as if he was not 100% for the hospital re-development.

Politically it was getting awkward for the Mayor.  Publicly he had to always be seen as being very positive.  The difficulty was that he was being drawn into day to day problems which were certainly serious enough but these were not battles he should be fighting.  The Mayor needed to be seen as the General in all this, directing able troops.

The new alignment has the Mayor dealing with the top person on the hospital side, board chair Susan Busby

The hospital’s working team now has to align with Scott Stewart and the people with him as well as the legal talent that has been brought in.

A team consisting of  Scott Stewart, general manager community services, Joan Ford, acting executive director of finance and Cathy Robertson, Director Roads and Parks Maintenance.  This is the team that will handle the negotiations for the city.

And then came the announcement from the province that it had confirmed a contribution of $22.5 million to the re-development of JBMH.  While the city is pleased with that news, it doesn’t lessen the need to complete the due diligence process and get the details of the Contribution Agreement worked out.

The city has its negotiating team in place and the Mayor has asked the chair of the hospital board to have her people meet with the negotiating team as soon as possible.

Two additional steps were taken.  The Working Group was disbanded – which takes Councillors  Craven and Meed Ward out of that loop and gets the Mayor out of the middle of all this messiness.  The other decision was to un-delegate this file.  Traditionally city council makes decisions and hands the file over to staff to get the job done.  That is called delegating.

Un-delegating means that it now sits with Council to whom staff will provide regular updates, just the way they did with the Pier project.

Mayor Goldring summed up the city`s position very well when he said: . “As stewards of Burlington property taxpayer dollars, we want to ensure we are both transparent and accountable as we make that vision a reality.”

The city and the hospital have relied heavily on provincial cabinet member Ted McMeekin who operates to the west of Burlington in the constituency of  Ancaster – Dundas – Flamborough – Westdale.   While Burlington has an MPP she hasn’t bee very visible.

Burlinggton MPP is target of Robo Calls claiming her decision not to vote for the Liberal budget could result in the JBMH re-development being held up.

A set or Robo Calls Wednesday evening (Robo Calls are telephone calls made automatically to a list of telephone numbers which in this instance were to the homes of Burlington residents).  The calls, from an unidentified source advise the listener that the provincial government was funding the JBMH to the tune of $22.5 million but that Jane McKenna, the Burlington MPP,  was going to vote against the Liberal governments budget which would bring down the government, force an election and maybe cause delays in the re-development of the JBMH.  Listeners were told on a number of occasions during the call that all they had to do was press 3 on the telephone and they would get put directly through to Jane McKenna’s office.  When a listener pressed 3 the call was put through and Jane McKenna’s voice came on line.  Her office was closed – leave a message please. The calls put McKenna in an awkward position.  She does have options.

Who sponsored the Robo Calls?  Want to guess?





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