City of Rossland asks BC Auditor General for Local Government to investigate governance issues in the arena scandal
The crowd spilled into City Hall’s hallways as 11 Rossland residents addressed council’s public input period on Monday to support Coun. Kathy Moore’s motion to request that BC’s new Auditor General for Local Government (AGLG) investigate the big picture of policy, procedure, and governance in Rossland that may have contributed to the Jason Ward arena scandal.
The residents who spoke—among them Michelle Laurie, Elise Paré, Maurine Brown, Darcee O’Hearn, Jan Micklethwaite, and Louise Sidley—also asked that the motion be moved up in the agenda from the end of the meeting. Council agreed to this suggestion.
Moore’s original motion had asked that the request for an investigation be made to the “Auditor General and/or the Inspector of Municipalities,” but, after some correspondence with Julian Paine, Assistant Deputy Minister of Local Government, she decided to amend this to only the AGLG.
Paine recommended that the city consider a police investigation because “many of the various issues you have cited seem to have a strong legal dimension to them, either criminal or civil,” and he suggested that the municipality also consider “how much or how little of its authority it delegates to staff.”
But he wrote that the Inspector of Municipalities might not be suited to investigate the arena problem because that office focuses “on the financial viability of local governments.”
He added, “The residual power of the Inspector to hold inquiries into the conduct of municipal business is extraordinary and very rarely used (i.e. requiring approval of Cabinet before proceeding).”
Instead, he suggested, “The newly established office of the AGLG has been created to provide an independent source of information and non-binding recommendations to local governments about the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of one or more of their operations, as well as identifying possible best practices that might be relevant to other local governments.” He noted that the AGLG is tasked with performance audits, not forensic audits, for which the municipality must hire an auditor.
Public input supports a third-party investigation
Resident David Grant asked if there have been “any further developments” in the inspection council recently ordered for the arena upgrades performed by ADA.
Mayor Greg Granstrom replied, “Council just found out today that Fairbanks will be here on Feb. 6 to complete their report on the inspections, and council expects a report two weeks later.”
Ken Absher said, “This kind of arrangement—with a city employee awarding a contract to his own company, and the company submitting invoices for his approval for payment, and he’s responsible for inspecting the work afterwards—is a direct conflict of interest. The only thing that stands in the way of the City of Rossland being defrauded is an almost saintly level of ethics and integrity on the part of Jason Ward.”
Granstrom opposed the mention of Ward’s name, so Absher modified his comments to “this individual who shall remain nameless.”
Absher continued, “He violated his legally binding contract with the City of Rossland when he entered into this conflict of interest, and he violated very basic provisions in the City of Rossland’s purchasing policies. And we’re expecting his integrity to assure us that we haven’t been defrauded of our taxpayer dollars? For councillors and the mayor who don’t understand why this is an important issue to people, that might be the answer. I’d like to support having some outside, independent investigation.”
Rosa Jordan thanked the mayor and council “for forming a task force to deal with the Delegation Bylaw, considering the problems that bylaw has caused in the past.” She suggested, “The most responsible thing to do is simply eliminate it.”
Jordan added her appreciation that, “as a council, you have decided to deal with this issue yourself, not hand it off to staff.” She said, however, that the “outside influence” of the AGLG is required because “just about everyone here is implicated, either by having benefited from contracts, or having not noticed when they were handed out and objected to them.”
Bill Micklethwaite qualified his statement to council: “This is not a witch hunt,” he said. “Nobody really wants to pin the tail on anybody.”
“I’d like to suggest it’s important to improve all future contracting and hiring in both operational control and oversight, from a business point of view,” he said. “The city is the citizen’s business. I don’t know of any business that would appoint a CEO and give him complete power over all affairs without further oversight.”
David Diplock said, “I have yet to meet anyone who is not appalled by what they’ve heard about what’s going on.
“I feel that all the great press the town has received this year has been nullified by this negative cloud that’s hanging over the town right now, and we need to get to the bottom of it and move on from there,” he said, referring to positive press coverage such as the Rossland-Nelson win of Powder Magazine’s Ski Town Throw Down, the New York Times’ No. 8 ranking for Rossland in top 2013 destinations worldwide, and CTV’s extensive coverage of the 116th Rossland Winter Carnival on Canada AM.