Town of Wasaga Beach’s Shenanigans on RFP for Real Estate Services
In October 2019, The Town of Wasaga Beach issued a Request for Proposal (RFP #2019-CL-RFP02) for a brokerage firm to represent the real estate interests of the Town of Wasaga Beach.
After receiving a lot of attention from the Wasaga Beach Ratepayers Association, Inc., (WBRA) and the Wasaga Beach Real Estate Community for several weeks, the Town decided to cancel the previously approved awarding of the contract “as it was no longer required”.
Still, many questions remain that have not been answered, while some responses simply seem to be untrue.
Why is this RFP issue important? When there appears to be favoritism at play that disadvantages local businesses, or an apparent unfair process initiated by our Town representatives, questions need to be asked for truth and transparency. This is the very least taxpayers deserve since it’s taxpayers money being spent.
Here’s the story so far, covering some five months since the RFP was issued in October 2019.
January 2020 – Procurement issues were raised by WBRA after two suspect contracts were discussed at Committee of the Whole and approved at the Council meeting of January 28, 2020.
1. A $300,000 plus cost to renovate parts of Town Hall was approved after informal quotes had been received. An RFP process was not followed for this contract. It was awarded to a company whose principal was a family member of a Town employee. In the view of WBRA, this should have followed a formal and strict RFP process to make it clear it was above board in all aspects.
2. The Real Estate RFP process was to solicit proposals for real estate services:
“The objective of this Request for Proposal (RFP) is to receive proposals from qualified Real Estate Agencies/Agents who demonstrate the ability to represent and advise the Town of Wasaga Beach on matters related to sale of properties, and achieve the best overall value for the Town” The term was for five years with an option to renew for a further five years. This in itself seemed like an inordinate timeline.
The drafting of the RFP and the subsequent management of the submissions is purported to have been handled by Town Clerk Dina Lundy, whose name was on the RFP document.
The successful bidder, surprisingly, perhaps shockingly, was announced as a real estate agent in Barrie, Ontario. He is the brother of the Wasaga Beach deputy town clerk.
When the town clerk presented and announced the out-of-town successful bidder of the RFP, she attempted to qualify it by stating the Barrie real estate company was in the process of purchasing the Wasaga Beach and Collingwood offices of Century 21 Real Estate. Seemingly to try to add credence to an out of town winning bidder, with our local well-known RE/MAX Wasaga Beach only in second place.
This subsequently turned out to be totally false information — any sale of Century 21 offices was vehemently denied locally, and no sale transaction has ever transpired in the months following this false statement.
Also, there was never any mention throughout this whole process that the successful bidder was related to the deputy town clerk. Dina Lundy, the town clerk, had to have known of this fact, surely? Who else knew of this connection?
In fact, a taxpayer, wanting to register to pose a question concerning the relationship issue to be asked at the Council meeting, was denied by the Town Clerk and was told to “go back to your seat”.
January 31, 2020 – Letter sent from WBRA to Mayor Bifolchi (Jan 31) since the Mayor provided little response to the question posed at the January 28 Council Meeting and the CAO provided a very vague response.
February 7, 2020 – Letter response from Mayor Bifolchi (Feb 7), among other comments clearly stating “You are incorrect in your statement that the Town did not follow the policy for the Real Estate contract or the RFP was flawed. It was not mishandled by the Clerk. The Deputy Clerk was not involved in the development of the RFP, in the evaluation of submissions or the preparation of the recommendation”.
February 28, 2020 – Further letter sent by WBRA to Mayor Bifolchi (Feb 28) raising more questions and asking for further clarification. This letter also reminded the Mayor of a time when she was Deputy Mayor and she strongly objected to the selection of a law firm because a staff person’s sister was working at that law firm. We asked again “do you still actually believe this RFP process was executed fairly and properly?” We also challenged the statement made by the Town Clerk regarding the purchase of Wasaga Beach Century 21 Real Estate business.
March 13, 2020 – Letter response from Mayor Bifolchi (Mar 13). In this response she outlined the process followed for advertising of this RFP. There was no mention of any local Wasaga Beach Real Estate offices being contacted out of courtesy for submitting RFPs.
She also stated: “While I have addressed this with you, I will reiterate it one more time. The RFP process for Real Estate services followed the required process under the Procurement Policy. The Clerk did not mishandle it. The Deputy Clerk was not involved in the development of the RFP, in the evaluation of submissions or the preparation of the recommendation. I will further add no member of council was involved in any of those steps.” In response to the totally erroneous statement by the Town Clerk she simply states:
“Upon investigation and confirmation from parties involved, town staff determined that there was a miscommunication with regard to a sale”.
March 23, 2020 – Further letter sent by WBRA to Mayor Bifolchi (Mar 23) suggesting actions that would be seen “as the fair thing to do in the eyes of the public”. Also stated “Ethics dictates there shouldn't be any doubts on the process followed ...it’s time to either change the due process to eliminate the doubts, or admit mistakes were made and learn from them”.
March 23, 2020 – Brief email response from Mayor Bifolchi. “There is no further information I can provide you on this matter. It was an above board process. It is apparent to me that no answer I give you will ever satisfy your speculations. You continue to copy the Integrity Commissioner on your correspondence to me so I suggest if you feel council has done something wrong, make a formal complaint. I am confident in the process used”.
March 23, 2020 – Brief email response from WBRA to Mayor Bifolchi: “It’s the taxpayers of Wasaga Beach you owe the explanations to. When business is done this way you create speculation, so maybe avoiding it in the first place would be an obvious answer?”
Since this exchange of correspondence, it has been suggested that Mayor Bifolchi was noted in several photos on the Barrie Real Estate agent’s Facebook page.
The previously approved awarding of the Real Estate contract to the Barrie Real Estate agent was cancelled without explanation after WBRA and the Wasaga Beach Real Estate community asked question after question about this particular RFP process.
These shenanigans have caused a serious issue of trust within our Real Estate community with respect to the Town’s handling and responses to this whole process. A quote from the Procurement Policy for the Town of Collingwood: “ To adhere to the highest standards of ethical conduct and to avoid conflicts between the interests of the Town and those of the Town’s employees, officers and elected officials”
Many questions still remain about who knew what, and who was involved in the process that seemingly singled out a Barrie real estate agent, with little qualifications, to be awarded the RFP ahead of a household name like RE/MAX of Wasaga Beach, who ranked only second in the RFP process.
Taxpayers of Wasaga Beach need to be concerned about these kinds of actions and demand answers to the serious questions raised.