An architecture firm tasked with working on the proposed downtown event centre is suing the City of Nanaimo for unpaid bills, claiming multiple senior staffers assured a contract before bidding on the job went public.
Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects claims Tracy Samra, the city’s former chief administrative officer, along with Victor Mema, the city’s former chief financial officer, and Coun. Bill Bestwick “assured” them that they would be “selected as the successful contractor” and that a public procurement process was being pursued by the city so that they could “appear to be following” their own policy, according to a notice of civil claim filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia last month.
The civil claim also alleges the city not only failed but “refused” to pay BBB $154,179 for Phase 3 work on the project between January and February, 2017.
According to court documents, BBB Architects claim they were hired in September by the city to provide initial design concepts and consulting services for the proposed downtown event centre. They claim the city staffers informed them that the city would be heading to the public bidding process for Phase 1 work.
As a result of that decision, BBB Architects claim they submitted their own public bid for the work on Sept. 15 and were informed by Samra three days before the public bidding process closed that they would be awarded the contract, court documents show.
BBB Architects’ claim states that the city never informed them about pursuing the public procurement process for Phase 3 work on the event centre and when BBB Architects found out about it and expressed concerns, Mema assured them they “would be compensated” for all of the services and would win Phase 3 bidding because “the city controlled the outcome of the procurement.”
BBB Architects ultimately won the contract for Phase 3 work, but were told by the city on Feb. 22 to provide “all billings to date” as the the city was ending the contract. When BBB Architects submitted an invoice for $154,179, the city “refused” and directed them to “revise the invoices to exclude all work BBB performed before the date that BBB was formally notified” as being the winning bid for Phase 3.
The Toronto-based company claims councillors were “motivated” to ensure the project was approved during the March 2017 referendum and that the project be completed on a “short deadline” which was dictated by a proposed memorandum of understanding between the city and the Western Hockey League, according to court documents, which also state the city had hoped to have the arena built by September 2019.
BBB Architects is seeking full payment of the $154,179 bill plus interest and lost profits, according to the claim.
In an e-mailed response to a number of questions from the News Bulletin, Mema said he couldn’t go into specific details about the case.
“The BBB court filing reads exactly like what it is, fiction,” Mema said in an e-mailed statement. “I am certain that procurement process was followed appropriately. If, as BBB suggest, there were intentions to circumvent the procurement process, then that never materialized.”
Mema did confirm that he refused to sign off on the invoices because he was “not satisfied the city had directed BBB” to complete the work it claimed to have completed.
Meanwhile, Bestwick told the News Bulletin he was “absolutely shocked” when he read the notice of civil claim and vehemently denies the accusations levelled against him. He said he is one member of council and “can’t assure anybody anything,” and has never negotiated a contract on behalf of the city for BBB Architects or anyone else.
“I don’t negotiate contracts. I’ve never negotiated a contract on behalf of the city and I’ve never been privy to any conversations other than what we get in council chambers, open or in-camera,” Bestwick said. “I don’t know. I don’t get it. I was big advocate for the event centre, obviously, and a big supporter of having the best provide us the information that we needed to make the right decision, or hopefully the right decision, moving into the referendum.”
Bestwick said the firm’s claim that it was awarded a contract before the public procurement process even ended was news to him. He said if the city owes the architects money, then they should be paid, but has no idea if they’re actually owed anything.
“If you accept what they are saying then I guess we do owe them money, but if you accept what staff, at the time, was saying then I guess we don’t owe them money,” he said. “I don’t know anything about that.”
Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay said council wasn’t aware of all the specific accusations by BBB Architects, but was aware that the firm wasn’t happy with the city.
“Every individual member of council received a package a number of months ago from BBB that was delivered to city hall and our CAO instructed her staff to remove those packages and return them to her and that council was advised that she demanded that any outstanding copies be returned to her,” said McKay, adding that he had no idea why.
Mema said “city council was appropriately advised of this dispute more than a year ago.”
McKay said the claims made in court are one side, adding that the city has asked BBB Architects for proof of the allegations, but that the company wants to wait until the discovery phase during court proceedings.
“We believe we could avoid court if they could provide us with the documentation we have asked for,” he said.
Samra did not respond to a request for comment by the News Bulletin.