Ontario Ombudsman to probe City of Brampton’s business practices (Brampton Guardian)

Ontario Ombudsman to probe City of Brampton’s business practices (Brampton Guardian)

May 25, 2016

25 May, 2016

Ontario’s Ombudsman has launched an inquiry into Brampton’s procurement practices but won't touch a controversial downtown development deal that has mired city hall in controversy since 2011.

Peter Criscione
Brampton Guardian
May 25, 2016

Ontario’s Ombudsman has launched an inquiry into Brampton’s procurement practices but won't touch a controversial downtown development deal that has mired city hall in controversy since 2011.

Paul Dubé announced Wednesday (May 25), that Ontario’s top watchdog will look at concerns about potential misconduct in the day-to-day work of Brampton city staff and the way the municipality does business.

Dubé added, however, his office will not address council’s specific request for a probe into the $500-million Southwest Quadrant (SWQ) renewal project.

“I expect the Ombudsman’s team will provide us clarity,” said Mayor Linda Jeffrey in response to Dubé’s announcement Wednesday, adding that this “historic” oversight is part of a number of initiatives her administration campaigned on, aiming to restore confidence in municipal government following years of turmoil under her predecessor Susan Fennell.

In a letter to members of council, Dubé advises of his “intention to pursue an investigation into the administration of the City of Brampton’s purchasing bylaws, policies and procedures regarding non-competitive procurement.”

Dubé notes the probe will include “the adequacy of the bylaws, policies and procedures, and the city’s enforcement of them.”

“Members of the Special Ombudsman Response Team will shortly be in contact with your Acting Chief Administrative Officer, Peter Simmons, to provide further information with respect to the conduct of this investigation,” reads the brief note.

Dubé followed up with an official release that the decision to launch a probe stems from concerns that the "issue of non-competitive procurements could potentially have systemic implications on the city, its staff and its citizens."

In May 2015, Jeffrey successfully tabled a motion calling on the province to launch a full public inquiry into real estate transactions and procurements by the city.

Months later, council determined the initial motion was too vague and voted 10-1 on a motion directing investigators to look specifically at the SWQ renewal project.

At the time, councillors argued the mayor’s 2015 resolution allows for the focus to move away from the city hall expansion debacle that is subject to an ongoing $28.5 million lawsuit against the municipality by Inzola Group.

Council pushed for a probe after a $308,000 investigation into the SWQ by external investigator George Rust-D’Eye, hired by the city in 2014, raised more questions about staff’s handling of the historic deal.

John Cutruzzola, a local developer and former Citizen of the Year, alleges his firm was unfairly disqualified from bidding on the project and that the city showed favouritism toward Dominus Construction in the awarding of the deal.

Ongoing legal issues have stymied council’s request for a full-blown probe.

But some of Jeffrey’s most vocal critics contend the city may never be lifted from under the weight of scandal unless the mayor delivers on her promise to rid city hall of the rot that ran so deep under previous administrations.

Rivals accuse Jeffrey of allowing the SWQ controversy to fester.

On that front, Jeffrey said she is ready to face her critics head-on.

“It’s really hard to constantly run a city looking in the rearview mirror. I’m trying to look forward,” said Jeffrey. “We want to give people the confidence that we are following the right processes.”

Jeffrey said her expectations are that investigators will look at standard operating procedures and whether there are enough checks and balances in place to ensure guidelines are followed to the letter.

“I am interested in what they (investigators) give us as feedback,” Jeffrey told The Guardian.