I sent the following letter to the editors of the Brighton Independent and the Community Press. The letter was published this week in both papers.
Recently, there have been several opportunities for Brighton councillors to demonstrate their commitment to increased transparency to the taxpayers that elected them. Yet, repeatedly some councillors turn their backs to these opportunities.
The latest example is related to the replacement of Brighton’s streetlights. I totally agree with the concept of replacing the old inefficient lights with new more efficient LED lights, as a way to save money and help reduce our environmental impact. However, I cannot agree with the process that has been employed in this case. This project was not budgeted and the calculations of the projected savings have been withheld from the public.
The recommendation to Brighton Council from the Director of Public Works & Development was to spend $501,315 for new LED streetlights which would be borrowed at an annual interest rate of 2.99%. The three page report did not contain any technical specifications, or show how the estimated cost savings were calculated.
Councillor Tadman asked Mr. Drzewiecki if this project was budgeted and he replied “No, it was not”. Some argued that the project provided a cost savings and the fact that it was not mentioned during the budget process should be of no concern. Regardless of whether there is a net savings or an expense, there is still a budgetary impact and it should have been discussed during budget deliberations. This is a $500,000 project with contractual obligations; we are not talking about buying office supplies from petty cash.
At the start of the June 16, 2014 Council meeting, Councillor Martinello asked for the cost savings calculations to be made public so that taxpayers could understand the basis for the Councillors’ decision making process. The request was denied as Councillors Kerr, Rittwage, Rowley and Deputy Mayor Vandertoorn voted against making the information public.
The motion recommended by Mr. Drzewiecki was passed by the same four Councillors, even though the other council members still had questions regarding the process and lacked sufficient information to make an informed decision.
On Tuesday, June 17, after hearing of the vote on the radio, a local importer of LED lights contacted several members of Council suggesting that the cost of approximately $500,000 was excessive and there could be savings of as much as $150,000. He was also concerned that he did not see an advertised public tender. This begs the question, are the taxpayers of Brighton getting the best solution at the best price?
Yes, we elected our Councillors to make decisions on our behalf, but no, we did NOT elect them to keep the basis of their decisions secret!
I made the following comment at the end of an earlier post.
“I think that it is extremely important for the sake of transparency and accountability that Brighton Council takes every opportunity to have all matters disclosed and discussed at the public meetings of Council unless there is a clearly defined detriment to the citizens of Brighton.”
It seems that this concept is either not palatable, or not understood by certain members of Brighton Council.
So my question is, are the four Councillors that voted against making the information public, because it was “proprietary”, working on behalf of the company bidding on the project, or the taxpayers of Brighton?
It was mentioned at the Council meeting that although three quotes were received, it was only one of the companies that had provided “proprietary” information. So why was the information from the other two companies not released? Also, I think that it is worth noting that these two companies calculated the cost savings (approx. $33,000 and $35,000) to be almost half of what the selected company proposed at approx. $62,000. It’s impossible to know how there could be such a large discrepancy without access to the figures, but I would contend that it would be easier to overestimate cost savings when you know that the calculations don’t have to face public scrutiny.
In future, to ensure that Council is representing the best interests of Brighton taxpayers, companies quoting on projects should be clearly informed that all calculations provided to council, will also be provided to the taxpayers. If the particular company doesn’t want to operate at this level of transparency and accountability with the people footing the bill, then they should be respectfully asked not to participate in the bidding process.
Some candidates are using the term “transparency and accountability” as part of their campaign platform and yet they demonstrate no understanding of what it means in real terms. Repeating this phrase does not change the reality that, transparency is a mindset, not a campaign slogan!