Salt with Pepper: It is over, you moved out, I’ve moved on. Let’s pay off the bills and treat it as a learning opportunity.

By Pepper Parr

Burlington, On.—April 21, 2011– It was like an old boyfriend coming back with an engagement ring – he didn’t seem to understand that it’s over, the trust is no longer there so let’s just clean up the mess and move on.

Last week, the city’s was given a proposal from the lawyers representing the insurance company that provided the performance bond that was behind the Brant Street Pier construction project. The construction company had walked off the job, the city asked the insurance company to pay on the bond, the insurance company said not now, the city sued and everyone was talking to their lawyers.

The insurance company must have looked at the facts and realized they didn’t have that strong a hand and that they were going to have to pony up some real cash they decided to do what they could to limit their losses.

So they came back to the city with a proposal to have the original contractor complete the building of the Pier along with a number of other companies that would provide design and other services.

This was the beginning of the end for the contractor.  A crane falling over,  stressed steel beams that were later  reported to be sub standard, and things went downhill from there.  The crane operator was reported to have been on a cell phone with his girl friend when he lost control of the equipment

This was the beginning of the end for the contractor. A crane falling over, stressed steel beams that were later reported to be sub standard, and things went downhill from there. The crane operator was reported to have been on a cell phone with his girl friend when he lost control of the equipment

The city also parted ways with company that was handling both the design and project management of the project. Thus, the city had a clean slate to work. City council was now focused and began to pull together a new team to build the Pier and that process was coming along nicely.

The new insurance company proposal is certainly a ‘fly in the ointment and while this Council doesn’t deserve what is happening to the city on this issue, it is now their issue and they have to deal with it. As a Council they were developing very nicely and heading into the development of a Strategic Plan that would keep them focused for the next three and a half years. This Pier mess will pull them away from their game a bit – we will now get to see what these seven people are made of. How much grit is their in their porridge?

Councillors Taylor and Dennison have the most experience but they are both getting tired and finding that days with seven and eight hours of meetings are not pleasant and don’t allow for the clear headed thinking needed to work through problems like this. When the issue of the new proposal from the insurance company got to open committee they immediately went into an In Camera session – so much for the transparency everyone had talked about during the election.

It was a short and somewhat noisy In Camera session. On a Wednesday with a Press release put out late Thursday giving Council four days of breathing room. Here is the press release that was issued.

The City of Burlington is reviewing a proposal from Zurich Insurance Co., the holder of the performance bond for the Brant Street Pier, to finish building the pier.

City staff provided a closed session update to the city’s Community Services Committee meeting on April 20, citing that the proposal was delivered to the city through Zurich’s legal representatives. City staff said they will need at least six weeks to review the proposal, including the engineering components.

In March, the city hired Morrison Hershfield as the lead engineer on the pier project and announced it is no longer working with former engineer Aecom Canada Ltd. The city is preparing a design and tender document for a contractor to complete the pier, with that tender expected to be released in July 2011.

“City Council will continue to monitor the pier project and remains committed to a timely and cost-effective completion of the pier,” said Mayor Rick Goldring. “Any completion arrangements must result in a safe and buildable pier.”

City staff will continue to provide information and status updates to council and the community, including at Community Services Committee meetings.

So – staff are going to take six weeks to figure out if there is any merit to the insurance company proposal – but Council doesn’t have that that kind of time. They will face an unhappy public that will see only more delay, a growing legal bill and nothing firm in front of them when actually there is a decent news story available to the Mayor.

In the Pier Update that was released last Wednesday Council heard about all kinds of progress. Teams have been created, different levels of contractors and service providers had been interviewed, choices had been made and contracts were being prepared for signatures. This was good stuff and the Mayor could have and should have trusted his constituents and told the story. But he issues one of those ‘written or reviewed by lawyers’ documents that tells you nothing and makes you wonder. City engineering staff wanted contracts signed by the middle of July with work starting soon after – and that can still happen.

The proposal from the insurance company has to be considered and it is going to get special consideration that will include a deep level of distrust on the part of city staff towards the original contractor who, before walking off the job demanded more than $2 million in additional fees and not have to accept any liability for mistakes they may have made. The city didn’t buy it then and they shouldn’t buy it now – BUT, do go through the document and make the case for or against the proposal based on the facts.

The plan is to apparently review the proposal and look at if from every possible angle and then use the same metrics to evaluate the proposals and measure it against the proposals already in place. Yes, the date for proposals has closed , nevertheless the city staff are going to have to review the document from the insurance company. Council and the Mayor need to get out in front of this issue and tell its public what’s going on. Mayor Goldring has the confidence of his citizens – don’t lose it..

The Mayor has council members who have taken positions in the past that have the potential to impede progress.

Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Mead Ward made the problems with the construction of the Pier a large part of her election campaign and did regular updates with videos of her in a construction helmet with the Pier in the background. That got her into office where the Pier is now on her plate. Mead Ward has consistently advocated for a mediated solution and seemed to feel that there was a way to resolve the problems and bring the original contractor back to the table and out on the constructions site completing the Pier. That “careful what you wish for” truism is now staring Mead Ward in the eye.

Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman will be close to livid with this most recent turn of events and I suspect he will advocate for a very tough stance. Will Councillors Taylor and Dennison go along with him? And where will Craven go with all this. Ward 6 Councillor Blair Lancaster will find the learning curve a lot steeper than she had anticipated.




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