Changes must be made to the way many departments within the City of Nanaimo handle capital projects.
That was the message delivered by Tracy Samra, Nanaimo’s chief administrative officer, to city councillors on Monday night.
“We need to make changes and that needs to be said because of the discourse within our community, the discourse within social media about the state of the union for the City of Nanaimo. So, I am encouraged by this report,” she said.
Samra’s words came shortly after Victor Mema, the city’s chief financial officer, wrapped up a presentation about a report by Deloitte that reviewed Nanaimo’s project planning, design, delivery and operational processes over the summer.
Deloitte’s report specifically focused on the departments of engineering and public works, parks and recreation, fire rescue services and information technology and identified 24 areas of concerns and recommendations for improvement. Deloitte also conducted interviews with 28 city staffers from the four departments and compared the city’s practices to “industry- leading” practices.
Among the issues noted in the report are that the city relies too heavily on staff expertise and historical experience for design and construction of capital projects while a lack of “workforce planning” causes departments to over-estimate their ability to deliver projects on time, resulting in project budgets carrying forward into the next year.
The report did highlight some positives, including the city’s capital planning process, which appears to be well-understood by the departments. However, it noted that some improvements were still needed. The report also recommended the city establish clear guidelines, mandate the use of proper project management practices and review current staffing levels and suggested managers should work closely with the purchasing department.
Mema said another issue mentioned in the report is that Nanaimo has limited vendors for construction, which has caused issues and delays for city-led construction projects.
“In 2017, we have had, more than once, gone out and nobody has responded to our tenders because people are that busy,” he said. “So, if at planning we had tried to identify internal and external capacity we would actually be able to commit to things that we can actually deliver as an organization.”
Mema also talked about the city’s SAP system, which has been in place since 2001. He said city staff are only using about four per cent of the program’s total capabilities when it should be around 70 per cent, and estimated that city has spent more than $8 million on its SAP system since implementation and should be using it more widely across all departments.
Coun. Bill Bestwick called the Deloitte report “extremely” disturbing and said it validated the need for an independent third-party review, adding that the revelation of city’s SAP system largely being underutilized was troubling.
“This is exactly the reason why, for over a decade, we have been trying to do an independent core services review with no bias,” Bestwick said.
Coun. Ian Thorpe said he found the report “disappointing” in places, but pointed out that it wasn’t all bad news, citing positive language in the report that highlighted the city’s process around capital planning.
“This is not all doom and gloom,” he said. “We do have some good things to base our work on and move forward from.”
Coun. Bill Yoachim called Deloitte’s finding alarming but said the report presented an opportunity for council and the city to move forward in a positive manner.
“What has happened in the past is wrong … [and this report] is about bettering ourself,” he said.
Representatives from Deloitte were not present during Monday’s meeting, but Samra told councillors that the firm would come before council at a later date. Samra also indicated the intention to go ahead with many of the recommendations made in the report and wanted to begin implementing them over a 12-month period.
Mema, along with Brad McRae, the city’s chief operations officer, sat down with the News Bulletin and explained that the Deloitte report, along with its recommendations, provides the city with an opportunity to become far more efficient and effective at conducting business.
“We understand that we have the opportunity to do things better…” McRae said. “This allows us to further our business better so we are doing things in a more efficient manner and in a more transparent manner.”
Mema said the report, which cost the city around $80,000, is not about laying blame, but finding ways to improve communication, organization and planning for projects within the various city departments. He said some changes have already been made such as improvements to how purchase orders are handled and that Deloitte’s timeline for implementing recommendations is realistic.
“What this is about is for us to be able to deliver projects on time and on budget and to me that’s responsible management of public funds,” he said.
McRae said the new fire hall the city is planning to construct will be a good pilot project to test and implement many of the recommendations made in the Deloitte report and help the city create better processes and policies going forward.