BLOGexclusive: Watermain-gate Government Letters
What's the purpose of reading out emails or letters at Council meetings and never posting them so we can read them or read what is left out too for ourselves.
Here is a copy of some of the exchanges between the City, the Auditor General and the Minister of Municipal Affairs. Apparently, these were part of the materials given to Councillors but not made part of the public Comunications package that I saw on the City website.
It is quite clear now why the materials were kept away from citizens. See my observations at the end:
Sent: Monday, August 13, 2007 4:20 PM
To: Jim McCarter
cc: Skorobohacz, John
Subject: Telephone Conversation – Windsor Utilities Commission
Dear Auditor General
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss with you the nature of the Windsor Utilities Audit inquiry to your office. Pursuant to our discussion, I am attaching a copy of the section under the Municipal Affairs Act Section 9 dealing with provincial municipal audit requests.
As we discussed it is in our interest to ensure that an independent audit is conducted on the recent water rate increases and that the public is provided assurances that the rate increases are warranted.
This confirms your advise that the process as outlined under the Municipal Affairs Act will be a timelier and most costs effective approach. Thank you for you guidance and direction.
Sent on behalf of Mayor Eddie Francis, Windsor Ontario
Your reply as possible as we have a Council meeting this evening
City of Windsor, Chief Adminstrative Officer
From: Jim McCarter
Sent: August 13, 2007 4:47 PM
To: Skorobohacz, John
Subject: RE: Telephone Conversation – Windsor Utilities Commission
Dear Mayor Francis and Mr. Skorobohacz:
I am emailing you back to confirm my earlier discussion with the Mayor regarding whether I felt that city council passing a motion requesting under section 9 of the Municipal Affairs Act that the Ministry conduct an independent review of the PUC issue was a reasonable alternative to my Office conducting a review if so requested by a Minister
I believe that this would be a reasonable option assuming that the interpretation of “audit of the financial affairs” allowed for an assessment along the lines of what is needed. Although the Act states a “provincial municipal audit” from the independence perspective, I suspect this would need to be under the auspices of the Ministry as opposed to a joint audit.
As you know, even if we received a request from a Minister, this would not take precedence over our current legislative work and even if we accepted the Minister's request, we would not be able to start this work for eight weeks or so. Assuming the ministry was agreeable to undertaking this request, this would likely allow the work to be started earlier. As well, if the ministry decided to engage some local expertise to assist them, this could well result in the cost of the review being less than if my Office was to conduct the work given that we are based in Toronto.
Auditor General of Ontario
August 16, 2007
Mayor Eddie Francis and Members of Council
City of Windsor
350 City Hall Square West
Windsor ON N9A 6S1
Dear Mayor Francis and Members of Council
I am writing in response to Council Resolution M218-2007, by which you request me to direct a provincial municipal audit into the financial affairs of the Windsor Utilities Commission pursuant to section 9 of the Municipal Affairs Act.
I concur with your request and am prepared to direct that an audit of the Windsor Utilities Commission activities take place. In agreeing to direct this audit, I want to advise you of certain requirements. As set out in section 15 of the Municipal Affairs Act, the fees and allowances for expenses for the audit will be fixed and the City will be required to pay these fees and expenses. We will need to establish an appropriate set of terms of references for the audit to establish the scope of work. A process will then be followed to select and appoint an auditor in accordance with Ontario's procurement policies. Once appointed, the auditor will require full access to all relevant records respecting sewer and water operations, and including but not limited to, the financial records of the Windsor Utilities Commission and of the Corporation of the City of Windsor.
Staff from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing will be contacting the City shortly to advance this process as quickly as possible.
I want to thank you for bringing this important issue to my attention.
Here are my thoughts:
- Nothing like emailing the Auditor General 90 minutes before the Council meeting and asking for an immediate response. That allowed Eddie to achieve what he wanted at the meeting.
- I wonder what "nature of the Windsor Utilities Audit inquiry " means. What facts were and were not disclosed
- Do you like how the AG is directed into thinking about a Ministry audit rather than one of his own
- Do you like this language : "it is in our interest to ensure" No recognitionof the "public" interest. Yes sir, it's in our interest to remain on Council for the next 3 years!
- How much of WUC's affairs can be looked at... past Administrations, Eddie's 4 years... nope "the recent water rate increases"
- Look at how limited the City's audit request is "the public is provided assurances that the rate increases are warranted." Nothing about diversion of funds, the 1,000 customers, "politics," 3-year freeze on increases, phasing in of increases, alternative methods to extend watermain life, Tecumseh watermains
- Do you see anywhere a request to do even a financial audit
- Whew, they got the answer they think they wanted to eliminate the AG. One has to ask what the hurry is....we have 100 years to pay for all of this. Just to let you know, I got a note from he Ministry on the 30th saying "no decision has yet been made regarding the scope and the terms of reference" and an RFP has to be issued. I guess the Ministry process is not so speedy after all.
- What is the propriety of the Mayor calling the AG in the first place when the Mayor might be investigated by the AG.
- Why does it matter what the AG thinks about "reasonable alternatives" Did he know about the facts of the situation or only what the Mayor told him they were? If he knew the facts, would he have said that it made sense to "engage some local expertise" since Windsorites want outsiders to be involved
- Note the key comment of the AG "assuming that the interpretation of “audit of the financial affairs” allowed for an assessment along the lines of what is needed." What the City set out is clearly not sufficent.
- The vital issue in the Minister's letter "We will need to establish an appropriate set of terms of references for the audit to establish the scope of work." Who is "we" is it the Ministry alone, the Ministry and the Mayor and/or Council? Since the matter is so "rare," do Windsorites get any say in this matter?
- Why is a Section 9 audit only being looked at and not a Section 10 as well since that was in the City's Resolution. Section 9 is only a "financial affairs" audit while under Section 10 the Ministry "make an inquiry into any of the affairs of a municipality." Can one see a whitewash coming.
- What did Sandra and Dwight have to say to the Minister
- The fun section of the Act is Section 12. The auditor "may require any officer of the municipality and any other person to appear before him or her and give evidence on oath touching any of such affairs
- Why was the audit enlarged to "sewer" operations? Where did that come from? Sewers are NOT a WUC responsibility although WUC collects the sewer surcharge. is there osemthign goin on withteh sewers that we do nto knwo about but the ministry does? Remember I pointed out soem seeming "diversions" of sewer surcharge amounts to non-sewer matters. Is this a story that Monica Wolfson is investigating now and is that why she has not written an article for so long?
- I hope that the auditor selected is outside of Windsor
- Note as well that the City's financial records are to be examined
- IT MUST BE IMPRESSED ON THE MINISTRY THAT WINDSORITES WILL NOT TOLERATE A MERE "FINANCIAL AFFAIRS" AUDIT BUT DEMAND AN INQUIRY INTO THE "AFFAIRS" OF WINDSOR INCLUDING BUSINESS, OPERATIONS AND "POLITICAL DECISION-MAKING" THAT MAY HAVE IMPACTED WUC NEGATIVELY!
- Let's be blunt...if there is any suggestion of a cover-up by the Ministry, then Sandra and Dwight are at risk politically. It is a long time before the Provincial election! If there is a cover-up, then we will need to ask why and whether there are any secret deals that may have been made!
As I said before, the story is merely just beginning.