Last Monday during a town council meeting, five votes of support finalized a one-year information technology agreement with Mount Allison University worth $66,000.
Through this contract, the Town of Sackville will receive consultation services from the Mt. A IT department. This agreement was reached following a series of private discussions. Local businesses such as Downtown Digital were unable to compete to provide the services. Though Mt. A and Sackville’s Chief Administrative Officer are happy with the agreement, not all the councillors are in agreement about this decision.
Bruce Phinney was one of two councillors who voted against the agreement. Phinney has served on council for ten years and has worked for Mt. A for over thirty years. He cited his experience at the university as one of the reasons he was against this decision.
“It takes three to six months to get an upgrade,” said Phinney of the service at Mt.A. He added that he felt “it was too big a price, and I don’t feel that Mt. A can really do a good justification because they are overwhelmed with the amount of work they have at the present time.”
Phinney was also concerned about the costs. “If they take $66,000 and hire another IT person at $41,000, that’s $25,000 left,” he said.
In stark contrast, Mt. A Vice-President Administration David Stewart said that “this agreement is going to increase our ability and improve our ability [to perform IT services].” Stewart added that “we have a very superior computing services department [and] have a long history of working with other public bodies.”
Chris Harborne, owner of Downtown Digital, was more concerned that the process through which the contract was reached did not allow him a chance to provide a competitive offer. Instead, the agreement was made through private negotiations. Harborne said, “[I have] done work with the town for about three years, and while I can appreciate the need to develop a strategic plan going forward, I do wish that I had been afforded the opportunity to bid on [the] project.”
Harborne voiced his concerns and said, “I have received assurance from council that any and all service-related contracts will be put to tender, and I would expect them to honour that commitment.”
Usually, under By-Law 150, if the contract does not deal with highways and is over $6,000, it should be put to tender. The new Chief Administrative Officer Phil Handrahan said that an exception can be made when the town is dealing with other public organizations like the university.
This exception is the product of the Atlantic Procurement Agreement which “supersedes all municipality created by-laws” so that “governments may acquire goods and services from other governments or government-affiliated institutions,” said Handrahan. He added that the town did not make an “RFP [request for proposal]” since “at this point in time we are not in a position to tender … I cannot write specifications around what it is I need.”
This means that the town is only seeking advice at this time and will later provide a request for proposal after the consultation has outlined the specific services needed, such as new computers or a server upgrade. Still, Harborne insisted that Downtown Digital could have competed for consultation services, and that their team does more than just technical work. “We have to find means of delivering services in … an efficient manner,” said Councillor Shawn Mesheau, justifying his vote of support.
Despite the exclusive nature of the agreement, Stewart insisted that “Sackville and Mt. A go together, we are bound together in an inextricable way; we need to work together in order to make [sure] that both of us are as successful as we can be … if we can help the town and the town can help us, we are both better off.”
Councillor Phinney characterized this partnership as unequal and said that “my colleagues have this idea that we need to create a partnership with Mt. A; I would love to see that happen [but] if that’s the case, why hasn’t it happened by now? We have been trying for years.” Phinney said he feels that the town often bends over backwards to please the university.