More emails link mayor, parkade project

Just hours after the developer warned that the new downtown parkade was going to be more than $7 million over budget, Mayor Lyn Hall and then-city manager Kathleen Soltis began exchanging emails about her spending authority.

At the time, the city manager could only approve up to $1 million in cost overruns on any given capital project but in May 2019, city council approved an increase to the city manager's spending authority up to five per cent of the city's total annual operating budget or about $8 million.

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In a press conference on Jan. 25, Hall said other than Soltis' initial email to him on July 4, 2018, he had no further updates on the cost overruns on the parkade until a report came before council on Dec. 7, 2020.

On Feb. 26, 2020, roughly nine months before the report was produced, Soltis used that authority to authorize $6.64 million in cost overruns associated to the parkade project from 2019, without requiring city council approval, documents obtained by The Citizen show. 

On the afternoon of July 4, 2018, A & T Project Developments Inc. president Jeff Arnold emailed the city an updated budget for the project, showing the estimated cost at $19.98 million – or $.738 million more than the city had budgeted. 

About an hour earlier, Soltis had forwarded Hall an email from A & T partner Frank Quinn, warning the project was facing "very large overruns." In her email to Hall, Soltis pledged to keep the mayor informed.

Additional emails obtained by The Citizen through a Freedom of Information request show Soltis emailed Hall again at 6:13 p.m. that evening, apparently in response to concerns raised by Coun. Brian Skakun.

"Given the most recent request for information from BS, at some point we many need to remind Council of my delegated authority," Soltis wrote. "It's described well in the attached Officer Positions and Delegation of Authority Bylaw No. 8340, 2011 on pages 3 and 4."

"That's what we should discuss tomorrow," Hall replied by email three minutes later.

Soltis replied, saying, "Thanks! Looking forward to our chat," to which Hall responds, "Ditto."

As of Tuesday morning, the city had not responded to a request from The Citizen to clarify what Hall and Soltis were referring to in the exchange regarding delegated authority.

Last week, however, a spokesperson for the city confirmed that an email exchange between Soltis and then city general manager of planning and development Ian Wells on July 9, 2018 was referring to A & T partner Frank Quinn. The emails suggest Quinn reached out to Hall via text message sometime between July 6, 2018 and July 9, 2018.

"As you may recall, the subject of staff salaries was being reported and opined upon in the Prince George news media at the time of the meeting," a city spokesperson said in an email. "Consequently, the topic came up as part of the course of a 'side conversation' during the meeting about the parkade project. This conversation is what is being referred to in the email chain."

On Monday, July 9, 2018, Soltis sent an email to Wells, with the subject "Fw: Parkade Prince George Costing." 

"How did things go with A&T on Friday?" Soltis asked Wells at 11:05 a.m.

"It went very well," Wells replied via email, 23 minutes later. "We indicated that they need to continue to get the best prices, and that City could not change the partnering agreement without Council Approval. Frank thought that Lyn needed to show some leadership regarding our salaries. Frank sent him a text offering to help. Call me if you need more info."

At 7:42 p.m. on July 9, 2018, Soltis replied, "Thanks, Ian. I talked with Lyn last night and he generally mentioned Frank's advice to me."

The city spokesperson confirmed that Wells did meet with representatives from A & T Project Developments on July 6, 2018, and that one of his staff members also attended.

A meeting invitation obtained by The Citizen through a Freedom of Information request appears to show Wells inviting Soltis, city manager of development services Deanna Wasnik, city manager of economic development Melissa Barcellos and city manager of sustainable community development Tiina Schaeffer to a meeting with Frank Quinn.

Soltis sent a reply declining the invitation.

Emails obtained by The Citizen also show the level of communication between Soltis and Hall during the period immediately after the city was informed by A & T about the expected cost overrun. A request by The Citizen for emails between Hall and Soltis from July to September 2018 resulted in 664 pages of emails. In addition, meeting requests obtained by The Citizen indicate that Hall and Soltis held regular, scheduled weekly meetings.

Emails from Hall to city staff indicate his general interest in the parkade project during that period.

On Aug. 1, 2018, Hall began organizing a driving tour of the city's infrastructure projects 

for city council, including the "condo project."

On Aug. 27, 2018, Hall requested a timeline for the reopening of Sixth Avenue and Seventh Avenue from city staff.

On Aug. 30, 2018, Hall emailed staff to ask about one of the trees transplanted on Patricia Boulevard from the parkade site.

"It's leaning badly and needs to be supported," Hall said.

The final cost for the parkade came to $34.16 million – $22.46 million for the parkade, $597,138 to connect the parkade to the city's district energy system, and $11.1 million for water and sewer upgrades in the area, and other off-site works.

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