Recently unearthed reports shine new light on Jason Ward Affair

Laurie Charlton
By Laurie Charlton
December 12th, 2013

Most people in Rossland are aware of the circumstances surrounding the City’s former Building Inspector, Jason Ward, issuing contracts to his own company (ADA Co. Inc.) for renovation work on the arena.  The direct value of the contracts undertaken by ADA was about $185,000.  A previous column described the issues and questions raised by this work.

Following Mr. Ward’s abrupt departure from the employ of the City in October 2012 and the “friendly” gathering in the Seniors Centre in January 2013 where Mayor Granstrom unsuccessfully tried to explain what Council was going to do to resolve the issue, Council did ask the Electrical Inspector and Fairbank Architects to review the renovation work done in the arena in 2010 and 2011.  Reports from those inspections were received by the City by the end of February 2013.

In April, under the provisions of the Freedom Of Information (FIPPA) legislation, I asked to see copies of those reports because they had not been released publicly by the City.  Initially my request was refused under the provision of FIPPA that the release of the reports might reveal the substance of Council’s in-camera deliberations.  I pointed out that the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) had repeatedly found that while releasing similar reports might reveal the subject of discussions, they couldn’t possibly reveal the substance of any discussions and asked Corporate Officer, Tracey Butler, to reconsider her decision.  OIPC has determined there is a distinct and critical difference between “subject” and “substance”.

With the City’s refusal to reconsider, I appealed to the OIPC to review their decision.  In July 2013, following initial discussions with the OIPC, the City informed me that they were also refusing to divulge the reports because they were protected by solicitor-client privilege.

For solicitor-client privilege to apply, the reports would have to have been prepared by a lawyer.  Obviously, neither the Electrical Inspector nor Fairbank Architects are lawyers so there was no basis for the City to refuse to provide the reports because of solicitor-client privilege.  I believe that the City was simply grasping at straws in an effort to justify their refusal to release the reports.

The OIPC had scheduled an inquiry to be held about the City’s refusal to release the reports with initial submissions due on December 19, 2013.

But lo and behold! – the City has just released the reports.  They are available on the City website but you’ll have to look hard to find them.  They are not highlighted on the home page of the City’s website under “Recent News & Notices”, they are buried in the section on “Reports & Studies” under “Arena Reports”.   They make for interesting reading. [NOTE: The two reports are appended to this article in pdf form for the reader’s convenience]

While it appears that the City realized that their refusal to release the reports was unjustified, and that the OIPC would undoubtedly order the City to release the reports, they really don’t seem to want the people of Rossland to find out what the reports say.  No wonder.  The reports contain comments that point to the failure of senior staff and Council to monitor the work of their employees and to take responsible corrective action.

The Electrical Inspector’s report identified “multiple technical non-compliant aspects of the installation”.  The work that did not conform to the BC Electrical Safety Regulations included the gas-fired heating equipment did not have a suitable disconnecting means; exit lighting is supplied by circuits utilized for other loads; exit/emergency lighting is supplied from convenience receptacle branch wiring not associated with the lighting in the room the exit/emergency lighting supports; a lack of bonding to new luminaire equipment; 240 volt de-icing loads operating on 120 volt supplies; and all the regulated electrical work was performed by persons not qualified or not supervised to perform the work.

The Electrical Inspector ordered the City to rectify the non-compliances before February 28, 2013.  There has been no word from the City that these safety-related non-compliances were rectified nor what the cost was if they were.

The City’s refusal to notify the public of these safety-related issues is outrageous.  The FIPPA specifically states that “whether or not a request for access is made, the head of a public body must, without delay, disclose to the public, to an affected group of people or to an applicant, information (a) about a risk of significant harm to the environment or to the health or safety of the public or a group of people, or (b) the disclosure of which is, for any other reason, clearly in the public interest.”  This is exactly the sort of thing BC’s privacy Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, has just commented on.

The 23 page Fairbank Architects report contains many findings, opinions, and recommendations that underline the inadequacies of the work done by ADA, and the questionable value of the work performed.  Their recommendations include suggestions that the city should verify that the Gas Inspection has been undertaken for the mechanical installation; that the City should request the contractor who did the Curling Rink roof upgrades to produce the specifications issued by Mr. Ward for the work if the City can’t find them in their own files; that the Curling Rink structure is not tied back to the arena structure; that a structural engineer review the installation to confirm its validity; that there are no contracts for much of the work; that ADA’s theoretical contracts with the City do not specify who is to provide materials for the work; that there are 80 invoices from suppliers for materials that are not included in the invoices paid to ADA; that the City did not seek competitive pricing for the work performed by ADA; that Mr. Ward did not uphold recognized policy and was in conflict of interest awarding projects to ADA; and that the value of work undertaken by ADA requires further analysis, with a more detailed inspection.

In spite of Mayor Granstrom’s statement at the “friendly” meeting in the Seniors Hall that “I will say that the fact that we got value for money is fact,” it appears that the fact is not in fact, fact.

This whole disgraceful chapter in the history of Rossland continues, largely as a result of the stonewalling by Mayor Granstrom and, with the sole exception of Councillor Kathy Moore, the inertia of the remainder of Council.  Council appears to have taken little, or no, action to find the whole truth in this matter.  There has been no attempt to provide a full accounting of the costs associated with the project.

I imagine Council prefers that the whole issue would simply disappear.

Laurie Charlton is a retired chemist who was a Rossland city councillor for 17 years between 1975 and 2011.

Categories: GeneralOp/Ed

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