• By: Dan Donovan

Not Malevolence but Massive Mind Numbing Incompetence by City Hall Civil Servants

Kirkpatrick or the Council–One of Them or BOTH Have to Go

Ottawa city Manager Kent Kirkpatrick is (over) paid at $330,000 per year. That he has no shame and has yet to submit his resignation in light of yet another complete debacle under his guidance as the top city civil servant is proof that this guy is incompetent beyond the pale. OLM first called for his resignation 10 years ago after revealing a scandal over the expenses of city managers that were more than a little nauseating and were a factor that led to the eventual demise of then Mayor Bob Chiarelli. However, the City of Ottawa-Orgaworld waste management dispute reviewed by the city auditor general in a report released this week proves beyond a shadow of a doubt the senior management team of civil servants running the city are completely incompetent and operating way out of their depth. None more so than city manager Kent Kirkpatrick who, as a result of the findings of the auditor general, should be terminated with cause effective immediately.

Ottawa auditor general (AG) Ken Hughes’ extensive report on the Orgaworld contract shows the city, under Mr. Kirpatrick’s management, entered in a contract with the Orgaworld waste management company without proper due diligence or even following basic rules related to contracts. The AG said that said  documentation and analysis was missing from Orgaworld contract records, pilot project data wasn’t correctly interpreted and management failed to exercise due diligence and was incomplete with fundamental errors. Hughes’ report contained numerous examples of stunning incompetence

?For example, under the deal, “…negotiated by Kirkpatrick and his minions, the city pays Orgaworld $8 million per year (before inflation) to process at least 80,000 tonnes of waste. However, the amount of all available organics in Ottawa varies from 21,000 tonnes to 57,000 tonnes, and has never approached the 80,000 tonnes the city pays Orgaworld to be processed each year under the terms of a 20-year deal signed between the city and the waste management company in 2008.”

Hughes noted the mixture of household waste and leaf and yard waste was never clearly defined and, as a result, “The City of Ottawa paid about $8 million to Orgaworld that it should not have had to pay.” In other words–the city paid millions for waste that was never processed.

Hughes reported that, “We cannot lose sight of the fact this project was built on a weak foundation where the proper analysis that should have been done for a project of this size was not done by city staff.”

Hughes also noted, “The city spent about $1.7 million in legal fees over the Orgaworld contract, which could have been far less if proper documentation was available.” The city managers never kept proper records or documents on a deal where they spent millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money like drunken sailors.

The bigger problem in the report, besides the fleecing of the taxpayers of Ottawa out of tens of millions of dollars due to financial incompetence, is the deception practiced on councillors by city officials–led by Kent Kirkpatrick. Hughes reported City of Ottawa staff never warned council about the markup for processing leaf and yard waste at Orgaworld instead of the Trail Road facility. He said staff gave council the impression 100,000 tonnes per year was easily achievable and there was little exploration of options, such as increasing the amount of waste over time.

The audit committee’s chairman, Councillor Rick Chiarelli, told the CBC on Tuesday that, “The basis upon which the 80,000 tonnes per year were arrived at was faulty, inaccurate and just wrong,” and went on to say the Hughes report proves city staff mislead councillors before they signed the 20-year contract with Orgaworld in 2008–“There were councillors who questioned those numbers, particularly Gord Hunter, who called them false at the time,” said Chiarelli. Councillor Rainer Bloess, who was also part of city council in 2008, told the CBC that, “I think we should have listened to Gord Hunter as opposed to listening to our staff.”

Hughes’ report includes 10 recommendations for the city, all of which have been conveniently accepted by management, led by the very incompetent Kirkpatrick–the author of this entire mess. What is really upsetting is Hughes has now jumped  on the possibility of terminating the Orgaworld contract early to consider other options, such as building a city-owned facility or approaching another supplier.  Mr. Kirkpatrick now says it would cost the city $10 million to get out of the contract. Orgaworld quickly responded, angrily, noting the cost to the taxpayers to kill the contract is closer to $56 million. So who do you believe?

In an emailed statement after the Hughes report was released, city manager Kent Kirkpatrick said the city, “has acted proactively to strengthen its policies and practices around corporate project management and record keeping throughout city departments.” Kirkpatrick says that from now on, every report to committees and council must now contain standard sections on legal and risk management.

As I read Kirkpatrick’s comments, I was reminded of the famous adage taught in most MBA programs that, “The problem with incompetence is its inability to recognize itself.” Clearly Kirkpatrick doesn’t understand the fundamentals of ethics, leadership and accountability. He is the kind of civil servant that gives   public service a bad name. A bureaucrat–all process, no consequences, look out for yourself, pay yourself the big salary, blame everyone else. He actually had the gravitas to report publicly this week the other civil servants who worked under  him on this file were all either no longer with the city or moved to other areas. “.  His statement should have simply said, “I resign.”

Kirkpatrick has been on the job for well over a decade and has been the top city servant for the cancelled O-train contract, the bridge bankruptcy and numerous other massive failures due to complete managerial and legal incompetence that have cost the city millions. Even Ontario Ombudsmen André Marin is saying he needs the authority to investigate the incompetence at the civil servant level at City Hall.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he’s willing to look at the possibility of cancelling the Orgaworld contract if it makes sense on financial and service levels. “We’ve been through the history of cancelling contracts in the past and it hasn’t worked out too well for us,” he said. “But if we can ensure that it makes financial sense, that it’s cheaper in the long run for taxpayers, and we have a facility to take the compostable material then we certainly should look into it.”

The Mayor has this all wrong. This issue is not about cancelling a contract or compostable material. It is about judgement, competence and trust.

At this point there is a serious question about the very competency of the people running the City of Ottawa. The councillors were smart enough to demand an audit after getting themselves into this mess in the first place. Now that the audit has clearly shown clear financial and management incompetence that has cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, and has shown that city staff deceived elected officials, heads must roll–starting with Kent Kirkpatrick. If the entire highly overpaid and obviously incompetent senior staff are not held firmly to account because of  this deception, things will not change and we can expect more of the same in the future. If the Mayor and the city councillors do not fire Kirkpatrick immediately with cause and hold all other officials to a higher standard, then the citizens of Ottawa should fire the Mayor and all the councillors in the upcoming election and bring in a team who will do what needs to be done.