Survey snafu begs question: Is city getting good value?


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An anonymous letter landed in the City Scope in-box this week with an attached sticky note reading, “Nice to see a local business trying to screw the city out of $14K.”
Well, that sure caught our attention – at the same time sending up warning flags as to the motivation for passing along such correspondence.
The letter is a copy of a disciplinary decision from the Council of the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors (AOLS) relating to allegations of professional misconduct on the part of surveyor Ward Houghton of Houghton + Houghton Inc., St. Thomas.
To summarize, Houghton bid on a city surveying project dealing with the infrastructure needs of Fairview Avenue, from Elm Street to Southdale Line. As part of the project, the city committed to providing the legal survey.
Houghton’s bid of $32,770 lost out to the lowest bid of $18,871 from Callon.Dietz Inc., of London.
Houghton subsequently informed Terry Dietz of Callon.Dietz Inc., that Houghton + Houghton owned all of the copyrights to plans prepared by his firm dealing with the subject area and the cost of supplying copies of such would be approximately $40,000.
As a compromise, Houghton suggested Dietz withdraw his bid and Houghton + Houghton, as the only other bidder, would likely be awarded the project. If such were the case, Houghton proposed to hire Dietz to perform most of the work on the project and pay the London firm the same amount of $18,871.
At first glance this would appear to be somewhat unethical or unprofessional and Dietz complained to the AOLS, leading to a disciplinary hearing.
The crux of the matter is the understanding an AOLS member “has a statutory duty to share surveyor’s field notes for a ‘reasonable fee’.”
The disciplinary committee deemed $40,000 for approximately 200 Houghton + Houghton plans was “far and above what most members of the profession would consider fair and reasonable.”
Speaking to Houghton on Friday, he told City Scope all he is seeking is clarification on what is considered a reasonable sum for work in which his firm owns the copyrights.
Fair enough.
The disciplinary committee proved unsympathetic and slapped Houghton with a $2,500 fine and determined Houghton be required to successfully pass a course in professional ethics at a college or university level.
Ironic in that Houghton has for years served as a lecturer for the AOLS on boundary and survey law.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting.
In our meeting with Houghton, he produced a copy of the finished drawings submitted to Ric Radauskas, project coordinator for the city’s environmental services department. These drawings were far from complete, Houghton argues, and did not include an OLS seal of certification, as required in the city’s request for quote.
Throwing the accuracy of the Dietz drawings into doubt and raising the question of whether the city obtained true value in accepting the lowest bid of $18,871, an amount Houghton asserts is “a low-ball figure” instead of retaining the services of a local firm city staff has employed on numerous occasions in the past.
If such is the case, then who really screwed the city financially?
We’ll continue to follow this survey snafu to determine if city staff are aware of the the quality of the material they have paid for and accepted.

TIME FOR ACTION
Earlier this week, the T-J referenced a letter from Elgin-Middlesex-London Conservative MPP Jeff Yurek to Madelliene Meilleur, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, alerting her of the dramatic deterioration of conditions at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre.
The closing paragraph of Yurek’s letter is worth highlighting: “This problem will not go away if we ignore it. It certainly won’t go away by muzzling those who are trying to inform the public of the conditions as we saw this weekend with the local OPSEU president being reprimanded for talking to the press.
“That is why I am offering to accompany you on a tour of the whole facility at EMDC. Afterward, we can discuss the issue with staff and management. We need to get the ball rolling before things spiral out-of-control at EMDC.”
We have approached Yurek to request the media be included on the tour and we will continue to stress the need for transparency on this powder-keg that could easily erupt into a full-scale riot in the coming months.

THE READERS WRITE
The point was raised in this corner last week as to whether St. Thomas was in the running as a possible home for Texas-based food-distribution giant Sysco, which recently announced it will build a 400,000-square-foot distribution facility in Woodstock which could eventually employ 250-350 people.
A reader mused, “was the St. Thomas brain trust (Economic Development Corp. and city council) even in the game? If not,why not?”
That prompted Grace Northcott to email the following observation.
“Recently the EDC has been given funding from city council to maintain it’s operation because it no longer is self sufficient through real estate sales on land or otherwise. My question is simple, if public funds are supporting this agency why isn’t the public receiving regular progress reports?
“In addition, during the last election most of the candidates stressed jobs and economic development. Is it time aldermen provide a progress report of what they have done to support their promises?
This should not be difficult to do since all of city council is on the board of EDC.”

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“This is the most vicious attack on the most vulnerable of our society and, to me, it is unacceptable.”
Elgin Warden Bill Walters at Thursday’s open house to gather information on the closing of the local ODSP office slated for October.

City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to ian.mccallum@sunmedia.ca.

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