September 28th, 2021

Councillors weigh in on Invest issue

By COLLIN GALLANT on July 23, 2021.

City councillors say they are waiting to see what’s been proposed and what it will cost before making a decision on contracting out economic development and land sales in the City of Medicine Hat.

Coun. Jim Turner told the News he has followed coverage in the media about a potential contracting out process for Invest Medicine Hat services, but hasn’t yet been apprised of details that are due before council will make a decision on the controversial issue later next month.

“Council’s only part in this so far is that when we voted to bring ‘Invest’ in-house (as a city department in late 2019), we said we were not going to keep it in-house,” said Turner. “That’s where we’re at.”

City manager Bob Nicolay told the News this week that the current process to solicit interest in a private contract to operate Invest and other potential services follows the general will of council and a go-ahead vote to test the waters in a May closed-session meeting.

He also described the process, which offers 10-year contract to a successful application, as exploratory work that will inform council’s decision on spinning out the office or keeping the operation as is.

This week the only final submission in a “request for proposals” process came from a firm made by current members of the department that was created two years ago, when a previous contract with a private-sector firm expired.

That has led members of the public and even candidates in the October municipal election to question the process and potential for conflicts of interest.

Coun. Phil Turnbull has said he supports the city taking the contract to market and a private sector approach to economic development and land sales, which were combined in a re-organization last January.

“We brought it inside the city and tore it apart, and put together in a way that we thought was the best way to go,” he said.

Coun. Brian Varga said, as a rule, he is unhappy when there is only one bidder, but he doesn’t yet know the details or what’s proposed.

“We haven’t seen a final report, so there are a lot of unanswered questions right now, for me anyway,” he said. “I’m not sure how, in this day and age when everyone is looking for work, you only get one bid.”

Coun. Jamie McIntosh also said receiving one bid is not optimal, but expressed confidence that bidder Orka Management, headed by current the Invest managing director with others in the city department, could excel at the job.

“If they do get it, they are an extremely skilled group of individuals, and I have no doubt they’ll have great success for the city,” said McIntosh, adding his feeling that private-sector operations is “absolutely the way the go” and stressing a third-party consultant has handled the process.

“I can understand there has been a lot of noise in this process. I think the city has done a good job working through the process.”

Turner said he would like more information as soon as possible.

“There’s got to be a compelling reason (to contract out), but I haven’t yet seen (a final report) about how we’re going to save money and make it more effective,” he said.

Council is currently on its yearly break and did not meet for a second meeting in July. Several of those the News attempted to contact Thursday stated in messages they would be out of the office on break.

They resume sitting on August 3, and could vote on the Invest MH issue on August 16, either directing staff to negotiate a final contract, standing pat or revising the process.

According to a general timetable, a third-party evaluator – national business consultancy firm MNP – is examining the proposal as it is tasked to rank candidate, then MNP and internal staff will provide analysis that will be forwarded to council members, according to Nicolay.

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