THUNDER BAY – A city councillor's call for more transparency in the process to build a new indoor turf sports complex is finding little traction at city hall.
Coun. Peng You has called for the city to bring forward the submissions it received through an expression of interest (EOI) process looking for proposals to build and potentially operate a complex with a flexible indoor turf court that could accommodate sports including soccer, Ultimate Frisbee, cricket, and lacrosse.
City council launched the EOI process hoping to find a cheaper alternative after narrowly rejecting a $39 million tender last year.
“Why don’t we release the [information] now, so especially the user groups can tell whether these proposals are any good?” You asked Wednesday at a town hall meeting held by the city’s five at-large councillors.
Staff have suggested releasing details of the submissions could put the city in legal jeopardy, something some other councillors have said they accept.
"While general concepts and/or models for a facility coming out of the EOI may be discussed and debated in open session, should administration proceed to make a recommendation, the content of the submissions is proprietary and will not be released, as per standard procurement procedure," city manager Norm Gale said in a statment to TBNewswatch. "When more is known about funding, administration will come back to council with a recommendation."
Instead, administration has recommended putting the EOI submissions on hold until the city learns the fate of its ask for up to $22.4 million in federal funding for the facility, through the Green and Inclusive Community Buildings (GICB) fund.
City staff had initially indicated they expected a response by the fall of last year, but now say it remains uncertain when an answer will arrive.
“If we have this process… and we don’t have any answer, what are we doing here?” You asked. “That’s why I’m so frustrated about this.”
“The proposed indoor turf facility is important to our community, and we understand that many people want a solution as soon as possible,” Gale said.
But he added the GICB funding, which could cover up to half of total project costs, is “a significant piece of the puzzle" that should be resolved before moving forward.
At a council meeting Monday, You said the city’s handling of the issue was frustrating the public, and attempted to put a motion on the floor directing administration to release submission details at the next meeting.
“We have lots of public [feedback], social media, phone calls,” he said. “I appreciate the questions asked by citizens – I think they have a certain right to know.”
Coun. Shelby Ch’ng, chairing the meeting, said You’s motion would be out of order after hearing advice from city clerk Krista Power, who said it would contradict another motion passed by council last year to await the GICB result, and should be reviewed by the city's legal department before being brought to council.
In an interview, You acknowledged he doesn’t fully understand the legal implications of releasing the information, but said he'd work with the clerk’s office to push for as much transparency as possible.
“We have to protect our corporation – we don’t want to be sued,” he said. “But the other part is we really want the public engaged with big projects.”
Other councillors have said they’re satisfied with the answers they’ve received, confidentially, from staff.
Coun. Brian Hamilton said there are “sound reasons why the proposals are sealed,” but also empathized with those frustrated with the process.
“I think city council is becoming as impatient as the community in terms of waiting for this funding announcement,” he said.
“I just want to clarify for the public that we have received legal advice in relation to the expression of interest, and that is why Coun. Peng You’s motion was called out of order, along with the fact that we have current council direction… to wait until we receive the funding notice,” said Coun. Trevor Giertuga Wednesday.