Council awards auction contract to McDougall to avoid possible litigation

Herald file photo.

Prince Albert city council has awarded a city auction contract to an out-of-town firm after being cautioned that failure to do so would put the city at risk of a lawsuit.

On Monday, council voted unanimously to award the two-year contract, with the option of a one-year extension, to McDougall Auctioneers Ltd. When the item came up for approval in December 2018, city council voted against the recommendation because McDougall was not based out of Prince Albert. Council members wanted to consider using a local business like Schmalz Auctions, who held contract previously and had bid on it again.

Those plans came to an abrupt end on Monday, however, as city administrators presented a report saying council would violate their own policies if they did not pick McDougall.

“There is no option to the recommendations that does not involve either a contravention by city council of the city’s binding Purchasing Policy 17.4 or litigation risk of a claim by McDougall in these circumstances,” the report reads.

That legal opinion shifted the votes of many city councillors, some of which said they would prefer to support local businesses, but couldn’t under the current laws. A few even suggested that future changes could be made to favour for local bidders.

“I’m going to support the motion tonight based on the fact that we’re bound by our purchasing policy,” Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards said during the meeting. “We’re required to agree with the tender process, and it was set out and it was scored. I know I had originally questioned it when we talked about $7,000. To me, local is important, because they do support the economy a little bit more, most of the time. Perhaps in the future we can review the purchasing policy, but as far as the motion goes, we’re bound by it.”

Mayor Greg Dionne expressed similar sentiments in an interview after the meeting.

“Legal opinion,” Dionne said when asked how such a hotly debated issue ended with a unanimous vote. “Legal opinion. It said, ‘you followed your policy. You tendered it. They won it.’ Bottom line.”

Violating the city’s purchasing policy wasn’t the only legal issue at play either. Dionne admitted city council made a mistake by allowing Schmalz Auctions to defend their case during a Special Meeting of Council on Jan. 7. A presentation from Schmalz representative Eric Schmalz was one of several items on the agenda, however representatives from McDougall were not given a similar opportunity.

“We did make an error,” Dionne said. “We shouldn’t have allowed the second party to come back and talk to us, because we didn’t give that opportunity to the other parties. We’ve learned from that. From now on, when we tender and the tender’s awarded, it’s closed. We’re not going to allow the people who didn’t get it to come back and argue and debate it. You had your chance.”

Dionne added that he was unaware of any complaints from McDougall about the process. He also reaffirmed council’s intention to change the purchasing policy to favour local businesses.

“We have to look at all options, but we are in the future, as you heard later in the discussion, going to look (at) putting in a column in our bids that ask about knowledge of the local market and involvement and stuff like that,” he explained. “(Local businesses) will get some points, but that doesn’t mean they’re still going to win the bid. They still have to qualify, but that will be part of it.”

McDougall and Schmalz were two of the four firms that bid on a city contract for monthly and annual actions of vehicles and disposable items. Administration began assessing the bids after submissions closed in November, and recommended council go with McDougall after rating their proposal as 93 out of 100. Schmalz’s proposal was ranked second highest, with administration rating their proposal a 64 out of 100. Rating criteria were based on five categories, including Cost, Relevant Experience and Knowledge, and Ability to meet all RFP Requirements, Qualifications and City Expectations.