Burlington has spent $1,349,952 (including all taxes) for external legal fees since 2008 in the ongoing litigation with the original contractor, engineer and others who worked on the pier. The fees were disclosed by Burlington’s City Manager Jeff Fielding at a press conference Jan. 30 at City Hall. (See presentation here.)
Council voted 6-1 at a special council meeting to disclose the total amount of legal fees spent on the pier. (Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison was the lone “no” vote).
Fielding confirmed the disclosure was in response to a Freedom of Information Request filed by the Burlington Post, and in recognition that in similar cases the Information and Privacy Commissioner can order disclosure of the total amount of legal fees.
The $1.35m does not include internal legal staff time. Those costs are not readily available, as city staff don’t track their hours by specific projects.
The pier cost $14.4 million to build. The fees bring the cost of the project to $15.6M and counting, since the legal dispute has yet to be settled. The original budget for the pier was $6.1 million in 2006, using leftover funds from federal and provincial investment in the Spencer Smith Park/Discovery Centre redevelopment.
Before the case goes to court, the parties are required to participate in mediation, and are encouraged to reach a voluntary settlement. Most of these cases are settled before a trial. Fielding confirmed that the discovery process has just completed, which tells us what the other parties know and how strong everyone’s case is. Mediation has been set for June 2014, but that date has already slipped a number of times. This dispute may extend into the next term of council.
My Take: I have long advocated to release the legal fees and requested the special council vote. I’ve never believed releasing the total amount of legal fees would compromise our legal position, and recent decisions from the Information and Privacy Commissioner in similar cases have ordered the release of this information. We’ve been aware of those decisions for several years, because those decisions were on the public record. I want to commend the Post for filing the Freedom of Information Request and keeping our feet to the fire on this. That is true public service journalism.
Our goal in the ongoing litigation and any mediation discussions will be to get the best outcome for the taxpayers.
The bigger issue here is the total cost to the taxpayer of the pier including the legal fees. The full story has yet to be told on the cost and options considered to complete the project, including multiple offers from the original contractor and the ultimate decision to retender (which I did not support). The legal fees are the latest expenses on a nice-to-have project that has gobbled up need-to-have dollars for priority items like infrastructure.
Ultimately the costs and options considered to complete the pier must also be publicly released in the interest of transparency and accountability, and I will continue to advocate for release of this additional confidential information at the appropriate time.
We have an opportunity to learn from this experience in the life of our city, and use those learnings to make the best decisions for residents in the future.
Residents will make their own judgments about whether we have been good stewards of the money and decisions you entrust to us.
Your Take: What are your thoughts about the cost of the legal fees, the road ahead and eventual release of all the options and costs explored to complete the project? Leave a comment [here]()** What are your thoughts about the cost of the legal fees, the road ahead and eventual release of all the options and costs explored to complete the project? Leave a comment below.