A developer who is a former District of Sooke councillor is questioning the district hall’s relationship with a consultancy that was paid more than $600,000 for projects in the past five years.
At a June 12 meeting, Sooke councillors chose Urban Systems Ltd. for a contract funded out of a $494,270 grant through the Union of B.C. Municipalities. The staff report said Urban Systems was hired to review “development approval processes, including the use of digital management software and web-based application submissions.”
Urban Systems, a municipal planning consultancy with 600 employees across Western Canada (including Victoria and Courtenay offices), proposed a $219,570 budget, the second-highest bid.
Three others were shortlisted: Channel Consulting and Spur Communications ($99,199), KPMG ($214,280) and J.R. Huggett and MABRI ($235,000). Urban Systems scored highest on the staff evaluation, followed by runner-up KPMG.
Haldane Homes owner Herb Haldane, who served on Sooke council from 2008 to 2014, said documents he received show that Urban Systems’ successful spring proposal may have benefited from a smaller fall 2022 assignment for Sooke’s development office.
The documents, released under freedom of information, include a Nov. 23 proposal from Urban Systems for a development approvals framework review contract under $40,000.
“This initial phase will allow us to explore and identify key priorities to build a solid foundation for tackling other key tasks identified in your funding application,” said the email from Shaun Heffernan, Urban Systems principal and senior planner, to Sooke director of planning and development Matthew Pawlow.
Neither Heffernan nor Mayor Maja Tait responded for comment. Tait’s assistant said she is out of the office until Sept. 6. However, Tait is spending Thursday at a series of photo ops with federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in advance of her evening acclamation as the party’s candidate for Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke.
“Urban Systems submitted a proposal but staff did not enter into a contract with them for that work and instead completed the work with in-house resources,” said interim chief administrative officer Raechel Gray by email.
“How did this happen?” Haldane asked. “They're denying that there was even a paid contract to Urban Systems to build the referral process for the last contract that they got. They’re trying to say that was done in-house, and I've gotten numerous emails back saying, ‘Yep, we assure you it was done in-house done by our own staff.’ Well, I know, through the FOI process, that that's not the case.”
One of the documents is Urban Systems’ Dec. 9 invoice to Sooke for $5,699.44 for “as and when planning services” rendered through the end of November. That work included a draft planning review of 13 building permits, and correspondence and bi-weekly team calls involving a local government adviser, planning technician and two planners from Urban Systems. The invoice said billings-to-date totalled $48,017.49.
Urban Systems worked on 17 Sooke projects between 2018 and 2022, worth $602,705.11. The as-and-when planning services project was its second-biggest task of 2022, after the $124,268.67 for an asset management plan.
Meanwhile, the contract for Paul Murray, who was hired to search for Sooke’s new chief administrative officer, was also released under freedom of information.
In July, a majority of councillors accepted Murray’s recommendation to hire Jeremy Denegar, the chief administrative officer for District of Lillooet since December 2019.
Murray’s proposal for the $16,900 contract included advertising the job, screening and shortlisting applicants, interviews, reference checks and optional “fit panels” and psychological assessments.
Murray has more than 35 years of experience as a senior bureaucrat across municipal governments in the Capital Regional District, including chief administrative officer positions in Saanich and Central Saanich.
The documents released included an email confirmation from Murray that he did not declare to Sooke that he had any personal or professional relationships with any candidates for the job, nor did Sooke ask for a declaration.