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UPDATED: Union claims Maple Ridge wants to contract out operation of new Albion Community Centre

Emails obtained by FOI show discussions with YMCA.
Albion Community Centre. (Contributed)

A series of emails dating back to October 2017 show the City of Maple Ridge had been in talks with the YMCA about the future operation of the new Albion Community Centre.

CUPE, which obtained eight emails through a Freedom of Information request, is accusing the City of Maple Ridge of not following proper bidding procedures, part of the city’s own procurement policy.

However, Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden said the emails are the business of the previous council and added the current one was elected in 2018.

“It looks to me that that was all preliminary discussions,” he said, noting that the city is currently building the facility.

“There is no discussion right now about labour,” he added.

The eight emails show correspondence between city staff and Craig Sheather, then chief strategy officer and now chief operating officer with the YMCA of Greater Vancouver.

They talk about the possibility of the YMCA operating the facility.

One email, dated Oct. 4, 2017, states in the subject line: “RE: Meeting with YMCA tomorrow.” It is addressed to Ingrid Kraus, then executive assistant administrator with the city recreation department, and Don Cramb, senior recreation manager with Maple Ridge parks, recreation and culture.

It the email, a person named Daniela Mikes says she spoke with “Don” and explained her concerns to him about the topic of discussion.

“My primary concern is that the anticipated value of the building management services triggers the requirement for competitive bidding of the services under our Purchasing Policy and the Trade Agreements. Meeting in advance with a potential proponent to discuss the scope of work prior to the bidding process could be seen as unfair by the vendor community as in doing so we could be providing the Y with an added advantage over other proponents,” reads the email.

Another email, dated Nov. 23, 2017, from Kelly Swift, then general manager of parks, recreation and culture with the city, is addressed to Wendy McCormick, then city director of recreation, suggests a YMCA report to be brought to a council workshop on Dec. 4, with bullets on what was needed to address in the report.

The emails says that city staff met with YMCA “rep’s” a number of times and that the YMCA had committed to providing a proposal that would outline an operating model and the city’s capital responsibilities.

The city would also be responsible for the first 10 years of facility operation, while the YMCA would cover future operating costs.

“If the City and the YMCA move forward, this will shift the programming opportunities planned for this facility from a focus on arts and …. to …(describe Y initiatives),” reads the email.

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The same email reads: “At this time, Council can direct staff to proceed with detailed design, including stakeholder input, based on the original concept, noting that the Architectural firm has been secured, or direct staff to pause this process until Council has the opportunity to review the YMCA proposal withing (timeframe).”

In a letter to Cramb dated Nov. 29 of the same year, Sheather expresses an interest in partnering with the City of Maple Ridge to “bring a centre of community to Albion.”

Then in an email on Aug. 30, 2018, Sheather thanked Cramb for sharing designs with him, commenting on the direction the building was taking.

“Seems focused on doing theatre and hosting events with half the building (large washrooms, space, storage, catering kitchen, change rooms, and green room), a small child care centre, and three small multipurpose rooms.

“If you are still thinking about the YMCA operating this facility, I need to let you know I don’t see how we could use our membership model in this setup,” Sheather says in the email.

Local 622 of Canadian Union of Public Employees said Tuesday that the documents show there have been talks between city staff and a third party before a proper bidding process was started.

READ MORE: Work to start on Albion Community Centre next week

Robert Letts, a worker for the City of Maple Ridge and president of CUPE 622, said he notified the current mayor and council about their concerns in November, but did not receive a reply.

Letts said the union is concerned that a third party operator would mean less accountability to the community and that mayor and council will be changing the direction of the model for recreation services in the city.

“By outsourcing the services at this important facility, mayor and council are trying to contract out their own responsibility to provide community services and oversee recreational programming,” said Letts.

He added that City of Maple Ridge workers have a proven track record of delivering quality recreation services that are cost-effective, accountable, and in the best interests of the community.

He also said the emails raise serious questions about transparency and accountability in the procurement process.

Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden was disappointed by the suggestions being made by CUPE.

He said the city has no plans to hand over the Albion Community Centre to anyone at this time.

“There is an open and fair procurement process which has not been bypassed and no policies have been broken,” said Morden, adding that council has yet to look at future plans of the new Albion centre as its opening is still a year and a half away.

Morden said he has previously met with Letts and they have discussed the union’s concerns after CUPE raised it in an open council meeting last year.

Morden said at that council meeting and in subsequent private meetings, council committed to an “honest and fair procurement process” and that CUPE “knows full well there’s an avenue under the formal labour agreement they can pursue with the city.

He added: “The decisions council will make will be sensitive to cost and value considerations and we haven’t received anything formal to consider at this time.”

“We’re not in any process right now, all we’ve done is we’ve physically started construction on the building. And the labour component of that is a future discussion,” said Morden.

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