Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Monday, March 15, 2010

New Auditor General Coming

I heard that I was NOT supposed to find out about the vote that went on at the in camera meeting re the Auditor General.

Obviously there was a BLOG hiding there and I had to rise to meet the challenge.

Back on September 13, 2008 for those of you who are superstitious and can feel another Civic disaster coming, this was reported about Windsor's proposed new Auditor General:
  • "The city's audit committee has hired the nation's largest headhunter firm in its search for a new auditor general for Windsor.

    City council earlier this year pushed to create the position to increase financial and political monitoring of the city, as well as its committees, agencies and boards.

    The job is designed to not only point out wrongdoing, but also inefficiencies. The new role has greater powers than the current city auditor's office in terms of what or who it can investigate...

    the committee selected the Toronto office of worldwide firm Ray & Berndston to oversee the process.,,

    The recruitment is expected to cost about $45,000, while the new job will pay up to $134,000.

    The audit committee also voted Friday to ensure four of its five members not be involved in the final selection.

    Chairman Max Zalev is top administrator for Windsor Utilities Commission and Enwin Utilities, George Sandela is a WUC board member, while Alan Halberstadt and Bill Marra are city councillors. All were felt to be potentially in a conflict position because an auditor general could investigate the utilities and council.

    "This is not like we are recruiting a senior manager or executive director," Marra said. "I think we need to remove any perception of bias on this, make sure there are no perceived conflicts."

Wow, it is taking almost as long as trying to find a new CEO for the Undevelopment Commission. We did get someone didn't we. He has been virtually invisible since his start date.

In any event, a few weeks ago:

  • "The city's audit committee is asking city council for approval to hire an auditor general. Funding for the position was approved two years ago, but the job has not been filled. Chairman Max Zalev would not identify the individual under consideration for the job. "We have someone we are working close with," he said. "We are sending a letter to get approval from council. We are hoping to make an announcement in the near future."

That Council approval came I am told at the last in camera Council meeting.

Annie, the Pizza Queen, should be thrilled:

  • "I'd like to plow that money into something with teeth that addresses what taxpayers really care about: how their money is spent. Plow that $43,000 into the new auditor general's office."

    What I want is an auditor general, someone whose job is to hold council and administrators accountable for taxpayers' money, ensuring value for dollars spent. An auditor general can study all municipal operations, including local boards, municipally controlled corporations and organizations that receive municipal grants. An auditor general has access to all books, records, accounts and reports, can examine people under oath and subpoena.

    I'm thinking of a Sheila Fraser, auditor general of Canada. Canadians love her because she pulls no punches."

Of course everyone wants such an officer. He/she could have investigated the 400 Building, would be able to examine the arena expenditures, could decide if we received value for money with all of the consultants fees paid on the border file and who knows what else.

Apparently, the audit committee wanted a budget of $500K for the Office. Not an unreasonable amount I would have thought.

So everyone was onside right? The Mayor and all of the Councillors supported setting up the office right. After all, his/her function is:

  • "responsible for assisting the council in holding itself and its administrators accountable for the quality of stewardship over public funds and for achievement of value for money in municipal operations."

Uh, no. At least three Councillors voted against it or so my inside moles tell me. Who were the three who must have been terrified for some reason to have such a position. Go on guess. I bet you can't.

Why would the three be so opposed to a person who is required to:

  • "perform his or her responsibilities under this Part in an independent manner"

And has the power to:

  • "examine any person on oath on any matter pertinent to an audit or examination under this Part."

And has very extensive powers:

  • "For the purpose of an examination, the Auditor General has the powers that Part II of the Public Inquiries Act confers on a commission, and that Part applies to the examination as if it were an inquiry under that Act."

Ok, Ok. I will tell you who they are, according to the inside moles. The three are Councillors Brister, Gignac and Valentinis.

Can you believe it, the penny-pinching hardliners have a problem with an A-G. I heard that Councillor Valentinis was concerned that the AG's office could run up huge bills in an investigation. A nice try to kill the Office but the poor Councillor forgot that the Act sets out specifically:

  • "Subject to this Part, in carrying out his or her responsibilities, the Auditor General may exercise the powers and shall perform the duties as may be assigned to him or her by the municipality in respect of the municipality, its local boards and such municipally-controlled corporations and grant recipients as the municipality may specify."

Some cynics might say they voted against since a bad arena audit could end their political careers, especially if it came out just before the election. All three of them were on the Arena Steering Committee. But that cannot be. Look at what they said in their final report:

In passing, note that the Mayor was there for a whole 7 minutes out of the 57 minutes of the meeting. Yes he was there so you cannot knock him on his attendance record but what was the point since he missed most of it.

Honestly, I wish I could tell you exactly why the three voted NO but I cannot. As I pointed out above, the meeting was held in camera so the poor members of the public would not know anything.

But do you what to know the real hoot....a recorded vote was taken at the in camera meeting! Imagine that. A recorded vote in which three Councilors voted NO. Why bother having a recorded vote in a secret in camaera meeting. It's ridiculous. The public would never have known about it but for this BLOG!

Perhaps a member of the traditional media could ask a few follow-up questions. I would do so but I am still waiting for the Mayor's Office to answer my request re attendance at non-Council meetings. It looks as if the Star has better access and gets speedier results than I do.