Is a sole source contract the only option for delivery of a service? Apparently so. More transparency from the contractor perhaps?

December 19, 2013

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  Does a sole source contract fit in with the values of an organization like BurlingtonGreen?  Would one not expect a higher degree of transparency from leaders with a strong moral ethic?

Should one expect to see a fully detailed financial statements of the funds BurlingtonGreen (BG) gets and has on hand?  And should the public they ask to support them financially get a better look at their financial statements?  How much of the BurlingtonGreen funding actually comes from dues paying citizens?

The city is negotiating a two-year sole provider contract with BurlingtonGreen bu the public knows nothing about the finances. 

We expect our city Councillors to tell us how they spend the expense allowance they are given and to post the receipts on the city website – but we don’t call for BurlingtonGreen to do the same.  Why not?

This issue came to the surface when, at a Standing Committee meeting, Councillor Craven was talking about the plans to add additional community gardens to the existing, and very successful Central Park operation one might add, run by Burlington Green.

The staff report being discussed has BurlingtonGreen as the sole provider for services that could reach $50,000 a year; Councilor Craven commented that he wasn’t all that comfortable with just the one provider being considered.

BurlingtonGreen is the strongest advocacy group in the city. They have put Burlington on the may environmentally.

A number of years ago BurlingtonGreen applied for a provincial grant to open a community garden that is  now tucked in behind the Seniors’ Centre north of New Street.  In order to get the grant BG needed the city with them as a partner.  It took some fast footwork but BG eventually go the city to make the needed contribution as an in-kind offering – the city put in the fences and did the early prep work on the plot of land that has 29  individual garden sites that are rented out for $50 a year.

The city is committed to the idea of community gardens.  It had to decide which of several delivery models it would use.  The possibilities were: Community based operations; operations handled by a service provider and operations run and delivered by the city.  The BG community garden program was designed to be a resource for other community groups that wanted to start a garden.

The official opening of the Central Park community garden. It was a pivotal point for BurlingtonGreen that wasn’t evident at the time.

The provincial grant covered the administration costs and an individual was hired to do the work.  We don’t recall ever seeing a “public” call for someone to do the job.  It was just given to the person that did all the work to get the grant.  Were city hall to do something like that – there would be howls of derision – some of which would come from BurlingtonGreen.

BG has an Executive Director; a very competent individual.  We assume this is a paid position but the public has no idea how much the Executive Director is paid.  That figure should be a public number and the public should know as well the length of any contract in place.

We don’t have a problem with BurlingtonGreen as an organization.  But we do have a problem with the level of transparency they have chosen to settle for.

We covered the BurlingtonGreen AGM recently.  They had a very good speaker.  We did not hear anyone talk about the financial affairs of the organization nor did we see any financial statements set out on the information table.  We covered the previous AGM and was told later that the financial information was not public

There is a cardinal rule for organizations that accept as much as a dime in the way of public funding – the kimono is thrown wide open; the public gets to see everything.  It’s called accountability.

The Central Park community garden has been so successful that the city decided to look for ways to do more of them.  It developed several models to meet the different situations that were presented.

A group in the Francis Road part of the city wanted a garden but there was a problem getting access to the water needed.  Rather than installing a municipal water source at a cost of between $25,000 and $30,000, the city is working with RealStar Property Management who have offered a water source for the community garden. The cost to design and construct the community garden will be $21,500.

 In September 2013, ward 3 Councilor John Taylor provided Parks and Recreation staff with correspondence from residents, along with 64 signatures, requesting consideration for a community garden in Amherst Park. Preliminary discussion with the Taylor suggests the group doesn’t wish to form as an organization to administer and operate the garden.

It is becoming clear that there is an interest in community gardens and that the Community Development policy that includes leisure services has merit.  Determining how best to actually deliver on the policy is where some thinking has to be done.

City staff along with significant input from BurlingtonGreen has resulted in three different models.

Michelle Bennett checking out a community group model garden in the east end of the city.

Community Group based: An identified group willing to deliver a community gardens leisure service as guided by the Community Development Policy. This model has the group handling the administration and operation of a Community Garden.

The group would work directly with city hall for any help they might need in getting started.  There are groups within the city that have been around for some time and operating quite well.   The city’s Community Development/Leisure Services Policy  was designed to encourage additional groups to come forward and develop new gardens.  The objective is to have community gardens in every ward in the city – at least in the urban parts of the city.

The Service Provider model is considered when there is an identified group or organization willing to deliver a community gardens leisure service as guided by the Leisure Services Policy. This approach would be considered when the local community just isn’t able to take on the administrative tasks, may not have the expertise or local leadership to get a project off the ground.  At this point in time there is just the one service provider – BurlingtonGreen.

City Direct Operation is an approach used when there isn’t an identified group or service provider willing to deliver a community gardens leisure service as guided by the Community Development Policy or Leisure Services Policy.

This is a situation where the city finds itself in the business of delivering a service that can often best be done by others.  It is not likely to be a service we will see much of, especially at a time when the city is looking at everything they do and asking the question: Is this a service we should be providing?  The answer to the question will be heavily impacted by where the money to pay for the service is going to come from.

BurlingtonGreen has done much of the early stage work; were it not for their initiative in getting the provincial grant and convincing the city to work with them – there wouldn’t be much, if anything, in the way of a community harden program.   That was the purpose of the provincial grant they were given. They developed an on-line registration process to receive gardener’s requests and conduct a lottery to award garden plots then manage the waiting lists.  Many of those people became volunteers.

The city reports they did not receive any negative feedback from the 118 applications for the 29 plots that were available in the first year.

BG collected the fees and provided the city with revenues which was used to offset the cost of municipal water. They recruited and trained volunteers. In the first year: 41 adults and 7 children volunteered an estimated 274 hours of time to garden operations.  They also pulled in approximately $3,690 was provided through gifts in kind and funding.

BurlingtonGreen provided day to day oversight of the Central Park community garden ensuring adherence to the user agreements and regulations. No reported incidents of conflict were reported, suggesting BG were effective in conflict resolution. They were the primary contact with gardeners handling day to day inquiries, conducted gardeners meetings and website updates. BG proved they could be successful in establishing effective communications with the gardeners.

As the moves forward with its Community Development/Leisure Services Policy the costs have to be considered.  Working with the three models it has been estimated that the costs for various numbers of sites would break out as follows:


(2- sites)





Option 1-CommunityGroup Based






Option 2-Service Provider






Option 3-City Direct Operation






 BurlingtonGreen’s responsibility for the Central Park community garden concludes at the end of 2013. The current budget and capital impacts of continuing to administer, operate and build new community gardens will be part of the 2014 budget.

That pilot was a success, primarily attributed to the administrative efforts, oversight and program provided by BurlingtonGreen. In particular staff believes a presence on site made a significant contribution to the success.

Considering the options in the context of the Community Development/Leisure Services Policies, the following were considered in providing the recommendation:

A group is currently not identified to operate the Central Park garden as a Community Based model

The Warwick-Surrey Community organization have indicated they don’t have the capacity to operate the proposed Francis Road garden under the Community Based model

There is a service provider (BurlingtonGreen) that is interested in providing the service of community gardens

The BurlingtonGreen proposal includes program elements that may not be considered necessary to administer and operate the community garden

There is merit in negotiating the scope of the tasks and costs of working under the Service Provider model with BurlingtonGreen to meet the city’s requirements

The city now wants to consider BurlingtonGreen as a sole source provider within the Strategic Alliances Policy that is in place to establish, maintain, or enhance partnerships with external agencies to ensure a cooperative approach to service delivery.

Does the city want to continue with this model?

City staff  recommended the  Service Provider model for administering and operating the existing and future Francis Road community gardens for the next two years. They did so for the following reasons:  The model is consistent with Community Development/Leisure Services policy; it provides oversight that limits staff requirements along with guidance and customer service.  Staff was confident that an appropriate scope of tasks and costs could be negotiated with BurlingtonGreen and that any agreement provides an opportunity to work with other groups who might want to operate under the community based model

Right now BurlingtonGreen is the only known group that can provide the service.The recommendation had BurlingtonGreen as a single source provider, which is where Councilor Craven voiced his concern.  Right now BurlingtonGreen is the only known group that can provide the service the city is looking for and so city staff asked that Council authorize the Director of Parks & Recreation, Manager of Purchasing and City Solicitor to negotiate and sign a sole source agreement with BurlingtonGreen to provide a service to administer and operate city community gardens for the 2014 and 2015 seasons with an option to extend the term of BurlingtonGreen’s services.

If acceptable terms cannot be reached with BurlingtonGreen, staff will request Council authorize them to administer and operate the Central Park and Francis Road community gardens for 2014 and 2015 season, through the  City Direct Operation model for the 2014 and 2015 current budgets.

This allows staff to operate the existing garden and undertake the process of Community Development to increase the opportunity of community groups coming forward to operate community gardens. If community interest is not evident, Parks and Recreation will conduct a Request for expressions of interest to provide the service of community gardens for the 2016 season.

What is also needed is an organization with a commitment to transparency. The Central Park community garden was a success because of the site oversight of BurlingtonGreen. It is now clear that an organization with the experience and commitment to community gardens is needed.  What is also needed is an organization with a commitment to transparency. BurlingtonGreen has yet to show that kind of a commitment.


The seed of an idea is planted.

Community garden opens.


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3 comments to Is a sole source contract the only option for delivery of a service? Apparently so. More transparency from the contractor perhaps?

  • Paul Haskins

    As the President of BurlingtonGreen, I can assure our organization is committed to have environmental issues that may impact Burlington considered and addressed. We believe in transparency and demonstrate it in all we do.
    Our Annual General Meeting (AGM), open to our membership and public includes a standing item early on the agenda to review finances. We discuss our results, project reports on screen, make copies available and invite questions. It is important to us that we set the record straight on this point.
    Also, the community garden services we supply provide exceptional value and quality to Burlington. We will truly be successful when community groups emerge to ensure the long-term viability of these ventures. We believe that.
    We are proud of what we do at BurlingtonGreen. Our web site is rich in information about our organization. Visit it here:
    Paul Haskins
    President, BurlingtonGreen

    Editors note: We have yet to see the financial reports Mr. Haskins says were made public despite a specific and direct request for the documents.

  • Susan Lewis

    “… ward 6 Councilor John Taylor”?
    Ward 6 Councillor is Blair Lancaster.
    John Taylor is the Councillor for Ward 3.
    Editor’s note: We knew that – but the keyboard didn’t.

  • mary bozelli

    I love it. This could be a big election issue.