Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Point / counter point in the letters pages of the Daily News

Mayor Pond's rebuttal yesterday in the Daily News over recent concerns about hiring procedures at City Hall, has apparently not been quite as effective at putting out the brush fire as the Mayor might have wished for.

Wednesday's edition of the Daily News provided the latest salvo in the ongoing discussion, with Anna Ashley back in print to offer her analysis of the Mayor's essay on civic procedures.

However, what appeared in print in the Daily News (an edited version of her letter to the paper) left out a few of her more controversial observations, a situation that she remedied on her own with a posted copy of her original correspondence to the hacking the main frame portal.

On their editorial page, The Daily News advises that they reserve the right to edit for length, legal issues, journalistic style and clarity.

In this case, it would appear that they took all four categories under consideration, with an editing process that seems to have taken place mainly due to the length of the response and perhaps with some concerns over the tone of the conclusions drawn by the author.

As it is, the published letter spans two pages, running from the page four home of the Opinion and Letters page and continuing on in the Local News section on page five.

Rather than double post both versions, we'll just provide a version of the letter as it appeared on pages four and five of Wednesday's Daily News.
Ms. Ashley's version of the letter, with her additional observations was posted on the hackingthemainframe website, shortly after the Daily News was published on Wednesday .
City numbers not enough to calm concern
Letter to the Editor
Prince Rupert Daily News
August 26, 2008

Pages four and five

Dear Editor,

Allow me to respond to Mayor Pond’s letters of August 25th and 26th.

Firstly, Mr. Howie is listed as ‘acting’ City Manager in the council minutes of Jan. 9, 2008. Then in the minutes of the Jan. 23, 2008 meeting, Mr. Howie, is listed as the actual City Manager, not the acting one.

According to the official city documents then, Mr. Howie was only on temporary contract during 2006 for a period of approximately 3 weeks, and not for the length of time as stated by Mayor Pond. Because I can no longer access the March 13 and 26 minutes of Council, I cannot confirm whether a resolution appointing Mr. Howie exists. In all the minutes I was able to check however, no such resolution of his appointment exists.

The figures given regarding Mr. Howie’s remuneration in 2006 do not match information in the 2006 Statement of Financial Information (SOFI). Mr. Howie is listed as having a salary of $91,483, and an additional $62,503 for additional services, for a total of $153,986 for the year.

Mayor Pond said that Mr. Howie actually made $164,202. I would like an explanation of why the figures given by Mayor Pond do not match the Statement of Financial Information. Also, why we are only being told about 2006-what about $2007?

Mayor Pond said that the additional remuneration awarded Mr. Howie under the Schedule of Supplier Payments, was for various items such as moving expenses, unused vacation pay and travel/training expenses. If this is to be believed however, why is it that all council members and staff members with similar travel/training expenses, do not have to have the remuneration for their expenses listed under the Schedule of Supplier Payments as well? For example in 2006 and 2007, at least 13 listed employees had travel, training and other expenses in excess of $1000, and the entire council had similar expenses. Yet, none of these people are listed under the SOFI Schedule of Supplier Payments in either 2006 or 2007. My question is why? If Mr. Howie’s similar remuneration had to be listed under the Schedule of Supplier Payments, why did no one else’s? Why the inconsistency?

The Mayor said that the contracts entered into with Ms. Hesse were the result of a desperate situation being faced by the city. He has stated elsewhere that he, himself, without legal authority, hired Ms. Hesse to fill the vacancy created by the departure of the previous Corporate Administrator in 2006. But, he does not adequately explain that the vacancy lasted all but two months at most, and yet Ms. Hesse’s contracts lasted for some 18 months.

Surely the administrative staff had more experience than that in various areas of municipal government, perhaps not in their current position at the time, but certainly with previous experience in other capacities. In a community where we have a retired CAO from Prince Rupert, a former Corporate Administrator for the City of Prince Rupert already, it is hard to believe that Ms. Hesse was the only one who could have fulfilled the tasks he mentioned in his letter. We will never know who else could have been qualified or available, as Mayor Pond ensured, through his actions, that it was never tendered.

Merely citing someone’s work experience is not a substitute explanation as to why Mayor Pond improperly entered into the contracts, nor does it explain why Mayor Pond failed to bring the contract to council for a resolution after the fact, if indeed the situation was as dire as he said in his letters. Regardless of any explanations the Mayor may offer, the fact remains that his actions, and that of Gord Howie, appear to be outside of his authority as outlined in the Community Charter (The Act Governing Municipalities). (Sections 114-116, 122, 123) He acted on his own, without a resolution from council to provide the legal authority, to enter into said contracts. Now our city has $100,000+ to answer for.

In addition, Mayor Pond fails to address the following questions I asked in my letter:

1. Why were these non-employment contracts, given to the spouse of the city manager, and not put out to tender, especially considering that the total amount paid out was over $100,000? (Tendering of contracts of this size is required according to the City of Prince Rupert’s Purchasing Policy and Procedures )

2. Were there not city employees, already under salary, that could have fulfilled the services in some or all of these contracts, and what value or benefit did the taxpayers receive for these contracts? (Only superficial explanations have been given. There are many qualified and skilled staff members working for city council.)

3. Why is there no record of council having approved these contracts in the council meeting minutes over the past 2 years? (In other words why didn’t the mayor bring these contracts to council for a resolution to authorize them?) There were two separate contracts. Surely he doesn’t expect us to believe we were in dire straits twice? He had an obligation to have council authorize these contracts.

I can only arrive at the opinion that it was more important for Mayor Pond to improperly enter into contracts with the City Manager’s spouse, than it was to ensure the rule of law and the responsibility to protect the interests of both Council and the residents of Prince Rupert. I voted twice for you Mayor Pond; I will not do so again, nor for any current member of Council who fails to hold the Mayor and City Manager responsible for their improper and seemingly illegal actions. In my opinion you have not conducted yourself in a manner befitting elected office.

Yours Sincerely,
Anna Ashley

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