Don’t accept free advice when you can pay $149K for it

Brian Jones
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Thousands of residents of St. John’s missed a chance to make some easy money this week.
No, this doesn’t refer to jobs at McDonald’s. There were much more lucrative opportunities at St. John’s City Hall, if only people had sent their applications in.

A while ago, city council put out a call for help with its snowclearing efforts.

The request wasn’t for guys with shovels, but for a review of the city’s “winter maintenance.”

During the past few years, the city has received reams of really good advice on The Telegram’s letters pages: allot more funds, buy more equipment, hire more staff and such.

The trouble with that advice — as wise and valid as it has been — is it was free.

Far better to spend $149,000 for a consulting company to conduct a formal review, which is exactly what city council did this week in awarding a contract to KPMG of St. John’s.

It doesn’t take a disciple of Nostradamus to predict KPMG’s engineers and public works experts will report that the city needs to … allot more funds, buy more equipment, hire more staff and such.

Given the choice of either paying attention to the input of citizens or blowing $149 grand on a consultant’s study, city council predictably opted for the latter.

Which brings us back to the idea of easy money. If burghers had known that kind of cash was on offer, more submissions would probably have been in the offing. Surely someone would have suggested they could give council snowclearing tips for, say, $75,000 — saving the city half the cost and providing the lucky winner with extra spending money.

Of course, city council members will say citizens don’t have the required expertise. After all, what do Newfoundlanders know about snow?

It’s not rocket science.

It’s not as complicated, for example, as mapping the craters on Mars or the potholes on Topsail Road.

But the call for a consultant’s study is typical of city council’s approach to snowclearing, even in the offseason. Rule 1: never, ever take citizens’ complaints seriously.

City council could have saved $149,000 of taxpayers’ money by admitting that all those complaints about snowclearing are valid, and changing its policy.

Instead, council members are willing to gamble 149,000 public dollars that they will hit a political payoff, i.e., that the consultant will report city hall’s snowclearing program is topnotch and merely needs minor tweaking rather than a complete overhaul.

Public outrage at this manipulative manoeuvre is muted because the moisture on the windows this week has been rain rather than snow.

If snowbanks were still blocking downtown sidewalks, letters to the editor undoubtedly would have been dashed off, questioning the expenditure of $149,000 on a report rather than removal.

Therein lies the problem.

Citizens see snowclearing as a safety issue and a basic necessity. City council sees it as politics.

City hall has its policy, and has stuck to it despite vocal and reasonable opposition.

City hall’s policy is to push snow aside rather than remove it. Thus the never-ending complaints about impassable sidewalks.

So, what value will the citizens’ representatives get for $149,000? It’s likely the consultants will tell the city some things that plenty of citizens have already told it.

It’s also likely the report will justify some aspects of the city’s policy, allowing councillors to proclaim, “See, we told you so.” In their minds, it will be $149,000 well spent.

But it’s a wholly unnecessary expenditure.

City council is playing politics with snowplows.

Council members would rather blow $149K than admit their policy is wrong and the complainers are right.

Brian Jones is a desk editor

at The Telegram. He can be reached


Organizations: KPMG

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Recent comments

  • Anna
    May 30, 2014 - 13:15

    Brian, any possible way, The Telegram can start a tally on how this Council wastes our money? A fence, a fully staffed Communications Department that doesn't communicate, $5.2M for Rennies Mill Road, another study where the results won't be released as it will how show how inempt this council is that it couldn't figure out how to keep the sidewalks cleared. I'm sure that is only part of the list. The roads are not fit to drive on with all the filled in potholes, hardly any road lines to be seen and it is almost June. With all the tax money this City is taking on, I'd love to know how they spend it.

  • JRM
    May 30, 2014 - 08:04

    Oh yes, grand idea. Lets get the anonymous telegram comments section and social media to guide government policy. What could possibly go wrong?

  • Tough Times
    May 30, 2014 - 07:34

    Sound like there's too many Tory's running the city. And like the Tories they wouldn't even release the report. Why don't we just sell you suck city council T-shirts to pay for it?

    • Christopher
      May 30, 2014 - 11:48

      Like it would be any better if it was run full of NDP.