Burlington has spent $1,228,040 on 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 this morning at City Hall. (Presentation here Brant St Pier news conference Jan 30 2014 final 9.30 am)
He 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 has order disclosure of total amount of legal fees.
The $1.2m does not include internal legal staff time. I’ll be asking for a breakdown of those costs.
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 others 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 and this dispute may extend into the next term of council.
My Take: Our goal going forward will be to get the best outcome for the taxpayers. Disclosure of the fees is a welcome first step toward releasing information about the pier that remains confidential. The full story has yet to be told on the total 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. Residents are asking whether these legal fees and cost overruns on the pier could have been avoided by working with the original contractor to complete the project. Ultimately the costs and options considered to complete the pier must also be publicly released in the interest of transparency and accountability. The full story will eventually be told, and at that time we must commit to learning from this experience to ensure we protect residents and their tax dollars in future.