Thursday, August 26, 2010

Unravelling the 311 web: Part 1

This is a new series of posts chronicling the battle I have had with Mayor Katz's 311 system. It's gone on for far too long, a couple weeks by now. In fact, it's still going. But I'll compile the information here in as organized a way as I possibly can.

I'll be laying everything out for you, with the goal of being as open and transparent as possible. Along the way it will become very clear just how non-transparent 311 and City Hall is. I will not cut or omit anything, nor will I tamper, modify, or alter the material I have in any way. The only exception is the "name" of the 311 Service Representative I first had contact with.

When I set out to see just what was going on regarding cycling infrastructure relating to Assiniboine Avenue, I filed a FIPPA (freedom of information) for the project and looked through the details. Knowing that so much bogus was involved, I drafted a formal letter requesting an audit be done on the project. I submitted it, in good faith, to the 311 service such that it would be forwarded to the Auditor. I could not have been more clear in that manner:

For City Auditor: Complaint: RE: Assiniboine Avenue Bike Path

Complaint for the City Auditor against Marr Consulting.

I am filing a formal complaint against Marr Consulting for failure to comply with contract provisions outlined in RFP NO. 120-2009, Traffic impact study, community profile and community facilitation.

The consultant has failed to engage the public and stakeholders as required under the contract.


B8.7 For each of the above projects the following will be conducted:
(a) A Community Profile will be developed to identify key organizations and stakeholders that are interested or affected by each project. The information that is gained through this study will be important in ensuring that the project planning process integrates transportation planning and engineering considerations with community planning in its social, economic, environmental and land use dimensions.
(b) Stakeholder Facilitation will be conducted to develop consensus regarding which potential project treatment will be implemented.


D2.2 Experience with the development of the City’s first Bike Boulevard (Argue St closure done through the WinSmart Program) suggests that the public consultations required (public Open Houses and Public Hearings) for the development of Bike Boulevards is inadequate to properly engage the important stakeholders that are affected by the project. As a result the City intends to enhance the Public consultation component in future Active Transportation projects such as
the Assiniboine; Alexander/Pacific and the Powers Bikeways. The enhanced model includes the development of a Community Profile, which is intended to identify the important stakeholders that will be affected by the project along with their concerns. The next step in the process is to get these stakeholders together for a facilitated planning process in order to reach consensus regarding the possible options for facility development.

The consultant has failed in each highlighted section above. The consultant then consistently failed to ensure prompt and transparent notifications of the evolving plans for Assinboine were made to the businesses and residents of the area, and key stakeholders such as Unicty Taxi. Public consultations were inadequate with zero to no notification of area residents. Area residents were not contacted for input, nor were they adequately notified of public open houses.

A poorly attended open house was held, however the plans revealed at that open house have been changed considerably. The shifting of street directions and funneling of vehicle traffic on specific streets must be clearly enunciated to the area residents and business to allow them to evaluate the potential for gridlock or inconvenience to their visitors or service providers and reflect their concerns to the city.

This failure by Marr Consulting demonstrates a bias towards proponents of the street closures such as Bike to the Future. Other interest groups such as the Friends of Upper Fort Garry have expressed interest in radical traffic calming measures and street closure of Assiniboine with no regard for area residents or businesses. Therefore a value audit must be conducted on this contract as the project is proceeding without the necessary due diligence as required in the contract.

D2.3 The goal of the two processes is to create opportunities for public involvement in the planning process that leads to a preferred option that will be selected based on the following criteria: technically sound; reflect the needs of the community and City in general; cost-effective; environmentally responsible and safe; and is generally understood and accepted by most of those affected.

D3.1 The purpose of the Community Profile will be to identify key organizations and stakeholders that are interested or affected by “The Project”. The information that is gained through this study will be important in ensuring that the project planning process integrates transportation planning and engineering considerations with community planning in its social, economic, environmental and land use dimensions.

The auditor must investigate this breach of contract to evaluate if the public is receiving the work it is paying for, evaluate if bias is in play, and must also take steps to ensure the public will not have to pay for the consequences of procedural errors or oversights by the contractor before the infrastructure works proceeds. Moreover, the changes to Assiniboine Avenue are not understood by those people and businesses that will be affected.

It is with these contract violations and concerns that I submit a formal complaint against Marr Consulting.

Graham Hnatiuk

With a subject headline and clear direction like that, there was absolutely no mistaking who my letter was intended for. 311 would respond in a surprising four hours with this:

Hello Mr. Hnatiuk,

I have forwarded your e-mail (below) outlining the complaint against Marr Consulting's work in connection with a proposed Active Transportation project, to the City of Winnipeg's Active Transportation Coordinator. I would also like to offer you the Coordinator's direct telephone number: 986-4966.

Thank you for contacting Winnipeg 311.


Mr Undisclosed
Service Representative
311 Contact Centre

It would seem either 311 can't read, or somebody told someone to do something specific. I couldn't have been any more clear, my letter was intended for the City Auditor.

311 instead, promptly returned an email to me telling me it was forwarded to Kevin Nixon...the very man who's department, should the City Auditor decided he/she should investigate, would have been audited. I immediately turned this unsettling news over to my city councillor, Jeff Browaty.

I responded to 311 that Friday evening:

New complaint against 311 RE: diverting my complaint against Marr Consulting from the city auditor

Dear 311,

1) I am reinstating my complaint against Marr Consulting and demand you give me proof it is handed over to City Auditor and to no one else.

2) I am filing a formal complaint against "Mr Undisclosed", the 311 service representative who diverted my complaint away from the city auditor. They did not even provide me with a reference number before engaging in an outrageous act of political interference.

3) I insist on being immediately provided the identity of who "Mr Undisclosed" is, as well as the identity and job title of any persons who directed Mr U to divert my complaint away from the city auditor, as I will be complaining against them as well. It had better not be the AT Co-Ordinator and/or Kevin Nixon.

4) Since my personal information has been provided to somebody who is not authorized to receive this information, and this is a violation of my privacy rights, please provide immediately with the contact information for the privacy co-ordinator for 311, so I can file yet another complaint.

Graham Hnatiuk

The task was simple. Read the email. Citizen wants it sent to the Auditor. Forward it to the Auditor. If I had been requesting a letter be sent to the can damn well bet it would have been sent to the Mayor's Office. But somewhere on the line here, somebody within 311 made the crucial mistake of making a judgement on whom should receive my request for an audit.

This is all that is in Part 1. All of this happened in one day, on Friday August 6th. I moved up the ladder very quickly the following week. Stay tuned for part 2.


bwalzer said...

Complaining about the person who forwards the complaints seems a bit recursive. I think you are caught in a loop at this point.

This brings up an interesting question. Why does Winnipeg even have an Active Transportation Coordinator? Isn't this all just transportation? Why make a distinction based on the method of propulsion used?

unclebob said...

I do not have the contract in front of me to check but most of these things have some clause about being fair, impartial, or even handed - perhaps it might be in the RFP that the consulting company not be compromised with the lobbyists or perhaps be arm's length in some manner.

Failure in this area could be a second complaint but it might go further to the party that awarded the contract. I wonder if it was single sourced?

I further wonder if there was a time clause because the Federal side of this is very deliberate and loaded. If you do not complete you will not only not get paid past March but also you have to demonstrate how you are going to complete it on your own or you may lose portions which apply to that you did complete.

unclebob said...

there may be something in the pre qualification area - did they supply this?

Kenton Larsen said...

New Public Enemy song: 311 is a Joke.

Graham said...


I can assure you that I'm not caught in a loop...hence why this is a series. Every few days I climb a few rungs higher on the ladder.

The AT Coordinator, supposedly, oversees the 37 AT projects. Which would mean the AT Coordinator is also charged with the duty of ensuring due process and fair consultation is taking place.


I just glanced over again and as far as I can tell, there are no prequalifications. The RFP was supplied, as well as initial contract details. After the initial contract which was only a few months, they were offered an extension for an additional year and a bit. Those details are not available under the guise of confidentiality.

unclebob said...

Too bad. That extension is probably the smoking gun. I am thinking they should remove the dollar amounts and supply the conditions.
At least they would have to supply this to the auditor.
That might not do any good because the auditor is a bit too close but if we get a new council they might see fit to supply it to an arm's length party.