The Urbacon affair is an explanation jigsaw with many pieces still missing

Posted September 28, 2014

Mayor Karen Farbridge has published a description in her blog of what happened to cause the city to lose $8.635 million building a new city hall.

But first, let’s review from the beginning what citizens were told about the project.

In June 2006, following extensive study and public input, the Kate Quarrie administration awarded Urbacon Buildings Systems Corp a $42 million contract. It called for building the new city hall and renovating the old city hall into a provincial offences courthouse. The citizens were informed of this decision.

The citizens were not told by the newly elected Farbridge administration in 2007, that the original design would be substantially changed by a series of more than 300 change orders. The nature of these changes were not revealed to the public. Nor were they told about the project completion date extensions, due to to the contract change orders demanded by the city.

The mayor says in her blog: “Council was regularly briefed on the significant risks associated with the inability to secure a completion date,” (of the entire project).

Again, this information was never revealed to the public. In fact, the public was never informed of the project’s progress right up to the firing of Urbacon in September 2008.

The mayor reveals that the administration hired an external legal counsel, experienced in construction contact law, to study and comment on the Urbacon contract. The public has never been given the name of this legal counsel or its recommendation.

But she adds that former Chief Administration Officer, Hans Loewig, “terminated the contract with the builder to gain control over the completion of the project.”

But many questions still remain. Why wasn’t council involved in this major decision? If council was not involved, who was? Is it true that council passed a special bylaw that allowed Hans Loewig to fire Urbacon? And why would that kind of power be vested in an employee? Was the expert legal counsel’s recommendation revealed to council? How much did that advice cost?

In her blog the mayor says “key staff involved with the cancellation of the Urbacon contract are no longer with the city.” She does not explain the four-year contract awarded to Hans Loewig, two months after the Urbacon termination in which his starting salary was $198,000 annually, plus benefits. He was also granted the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave on top of his regular paid vacation. Draw your own conclusions. It should be noted that Loewig was not a permanent employee at the time of his alleged firing of Urbacon.

There were no details of a settlement in the dispute reported by the media or the city for more than four years. Not until the Urbacon lawsuit trial started in February 2013, did the public start to hear what happened in September 2008. The trial produced several facts over which the city had no control.

The evidence was revealing in what was stated and who was not called to testify. Chief among the missing witnesses was the recently retired CAO Hans Loewig. Keep in mind the mayor now claims that Loewig fired Urbacon. Convenience is the mother of alibis.

Despite not tesifying, an email introduced in evidence and sent in late August 2008 by Loewig to Urbacon, expressed how pleased he was with the progress of the project and looked forward to the official opening in January 2009. The city hall portion of the contract was 95 per cent completed yet Urbacon was ordered off the site September 19th 2008 and the police were called to back-up the order.

Justice Donald MacKenzie ruled the city did not have the right to fire Urbacon and now we know the rest of the story. Or, do we?

There are several outstanding issues that the mayor glosses over: Such as the cost and details of hiring two contruction firms to complete the original contract. Or what were the costs due to Aviva, the bondholder, who the city sued and lost. Or any termination costs of city employees. Or the money spent on paying off the project’s subcontractors.

She stated:“Let me be clear – every dollar of the Urbacon settlement that wasn’t spent on the people of Guelph is a wasted opportunity.” Hello! More details, please.

Despite that explanation the citizens still don’t know who authorized the firing of Urbacon or the total costs. The mayor refuses to accept responsibility, so who’s left?

Ask yourself, should you re-elect a mayor and her council supporters who have orchestrated this multi-million financial disaster without informing the public of their decisions and the fallout for five years?

It remains a deliberate abuse of the public trust by its elected officials.

Think about that when you go to the polls October 27. It’s your only chance to change the way our city has been managed for the past eight years.

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1 Comment

Filed under Between the Lines

One response to “The Urbacon affair is an explanation jigsaw with many pieces still missing

  1. oswald zeijlstra

    Re : the Police Chief : I always had the feeling that Brian Larkin was leaving the sinking ship
    RE : AA+ rating : Where do people get the idea, that paying your bills has anything to do with “creative bookkeeping” ?

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