City says water meter contract process followed the rules
What I know, you know.
That was the message from Mayor Gerald Tremblay on Tuesday after an emergency city hall meeting to re-examine a controversial $355 million contract for the installation and management of city water meters in non-residential buildings. It is the most expensive contract the city has ever given.
The meeting was called as public pressure mounted after it was learned that a former city councilor spent time on the yacht of one of the businessmen whose company was granted the contract.
Yet, after the meeting, the mayor was adamant that the contract was granted according to the rules.
"It's very important to the credibility and integrity of the process be very clear," said Tremblay. "I was elected to be responsible and accountable. There's questions that are asked; there's appearances of conflict of interest. Let's solve this problem as soon as possible."
He also said water meters would save about $20 million a year, because it would reduce pressure and therefore reduce the number of incidents where water pressure causes infrastructure to break.
The contract was grated to GENIeau, a consortium including Simard-Beaudry Construction Inc., a company owned by businessman Antonio Accurso.
Former city councilor and former executive committee president Frank Zampino has confirmed he spent time with Accurso on vacation in the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008.
In addition, three of Accurso's companies are now being investigated by the Canada Revenue Agency for tax fraud.
After leaving politics Zampino took a job as senior vice-president and chief financial officer with Dessau, another one of the companies in the consortium.
He resigned last week in a letter that pointed a finger at the media.
"In the face of such ruthless media hostility towards myself ... my integrity is relentlessly and without any evidence under attack," Zampino said in a statement.
"This situation can be detrimental to the organization," he added.
Opposition speaks up
After the meeting, opposition leader Benoit Labonte said that he was surprised to see the estimated costs of the project over its 25-year life span have increased to $600 million, when accounting for inflation.
He also said the city had a recommendation to accept the GENIeau offer two days before opening the bids between GENIeau and the competition.
"The real question here is-- was this process fixed before? That's the real question and none of the answers we got today allow me to think that it was not. Maybe it was fixed before," said Labonte.
However, the city maintains it is common practice to open files when accepting bids and add information to those files as is needed.
Auditor general involved
The auditor general for the city will continue to investigate this project, and has been granted the funds and powers to do so. The report is due by June 18. The contract remains suspended pending the investigation.
The city says if the auditor general takes issue with any element of the contract, they will deal with it as it comes.
In the meantime, next Monday's city council meeting is expected to include time spent on ethics and to discuss the possibility of an ethics commissioner for Montreal.