Cornwall could have faced $5M lawsuit in ‘slam dunk’ case over garbage deal

Cornwall Infrastructure GM John St. Marseille, left, answers a question from Coun. Eric Bergeron, right, during a council meeting on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. Bergeron was the only councillor to vote against a $24 million garbage and recycling contract because he was not comfortable with the procedure. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – A city councillor says the municipality could have been sued for roughly $5 million if it didn’t follow through with the Request for Proposal (RFP) recommendation on a seven year garbage and recycling contract.

City council approved the $24 million deal with Environmental 360 Solutions last night (Monday). While the contract is roughly $154,000 more expensive, the contract is expected to save the city about $535,000 over the next seven years. Environmental 360 Solutions outscored the existing firm, HGC Management, in a review by an evaluation committee.

In an interview with Cornwall Newswatch, Justin Towndale says the situation is a “rehash” of the 2010 RFP for a drug contract with Glen-Stor-Dun Lodge, where council tried to rejig the outcome to give the contract to a local pharmacy. It later backed off after learning it could get sued.

“We had a similar situation. Council tried to change it. We were advised by our lawyer that we put the city in a really serious legal spot where the other proponent could sue us,” Towndale said. “We have a responsibility to the city to ensure it doesn’t (get sued).”

Council met for two hours Monday behind closed doors with its lawyer. According to Towndale, a lawsuit could have cost the city 20 per cent of the contract plus lawyer fees.

“The lawyer used the term ‘slam dunk.’ He said he does not like to use that term but he used it in this case,” Towndale told Cornwall Newswatch. “We don’t have much of a choice here.”

Towndale could not elaborate on the lawyer’s reasoning because it was part of a private council meeting.

Towndale added that it’s his understanding the owner of Environmental 360 Solutions has also asked for a copy of the collective agreement for the unionized employees at HGC Management. “So it sounds to me like he’s not opposed to unionization. I guarantee, come back in a year from now, it will be status quo or better.”

Based on the job numbers provided by HGC Management and E360, Towndale believes there will be a net employment gain locally.

RFP process needs fixing, councillors say

A couple of councillors say the Request for Proposal (RFP) process, which binds council to an administrative decision, needs work.

“It needs some fixing,” Coun. Justin Towndale said. “We said this last term. There’s a scoring system but we don’t see the scores. Other municipalities release their scores publicly. The way the RFPs are written, we learned that there’s the Canadian Free Trade Agreement…that municipalities have to adhere to. We cannot give preference to local companies. Not that any of the companies in this case are local. They are both not based in Cornwall.”

Towndale said staff and council need to find ways to improve the process and make it more clear. “The way this worked out, huge report with the RFP and bylaw attached in the same meeting. That’s just not functional for anybody.”

Coun. Eric Bergeron told Cornwall Newswatch the city needs to educate the public on the RFP process. He was the only councillor to vote against awarding the contract Monday night.

Bergeron objected strictly on procedure – he had a problem with not having the bylaws established before the RFP was approved. “We’re asking council to approve bylaws that don’t exist yet.” Those bylaws would set the various components in the modified level of service for garbage and recycling, such as bag limits, how mandatory carts are bought and mandatory recycling.

As for the RFP, “it was the previous council that was there when it was set up but I don’t think they had any input in to how it was developed and that’s a problem to me,” Bergeron said.

“Everything was done properly and legally but does that mean it’s in the best interest of the public? No, I don’t know if that’s the case. It’s a question that needs to keep being asked.”

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