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Auditor general for local government, designed to fail or left to implode?

Dermod Travis
By Dermod Travis
August 18th, 2015

Last week the Union of B.C. Municipalities released its report on the operations of B.C.’s Auditor General for Local Government (AGLG).

It paints a less than flattering picture of the office. No big surprise given that the UBCM was hardly a fan of the auditor general concept in the first place.

The report’s findings are based on a survey of 17 communities that had audit contact with the AGLG.

They didn’t pull any punches in their observations: “uninformed, obvious confusion, disarray, fails to meet deadlines, disorganized, mishandles information.”

Pile-ons are easier when the opponent seems down for the count.
There is something puzzling about the report. You’re left with the impression that this whole auditor general idea happened in a vacuum.

From the report: “While it may be possible to renew the operational approach of the AGLG to better serve local governments, it is unlikely this will be achieved without substantive consultation…”

Consultation certainly wasn’t lacking when the AGLG developed its annual service plans in 2013.

The UBCM executive met B.C.’s first auditor general for local government, Basia Ruta, at its January 2013 meeting, just a week after she was appointed to the job.

They met again in February and in March at the UBCM’s regional district CAO/chairs meeting.

The AGLG held a two-day strategic planning workshop that April with key stakeholders, including the UBCM, local government associations and performance audit experts.

There was a one-day performance audit planning workshop with senior staff from 20 local governments, which was followed by an online audit planning survey sent to every single chief administrative officer in the province.

The themes that were to emerge from those consultations were intended to guide “the selection of future performance audits.”

One of the themes was emergency management and protective services, which included police services.

If the UBCM survey is any indication, that one hit a nerve.

One community with RCMP policing commented that since they had very little discretion over the terms of their policing contract, “the AGLG is not quite sure how to assess our situation.”

Another claimed that the “auditors appeared to have very little background information regarding municipal police unit agreements.”

If policing was going to be so problematic, why didn’t someone catch it earlier on in the consultations before it was assigned as an audit topic?

There’s a wee bit of the pot calling the kettle black in the survey as well.

The AGLG’s high staff turnover rate was singled out for criticism. Yet, of the 17 local governments in the survey, nine saw their chief administrative officer (CAO) depart in the same time period.

The cost to local governments of fulfilling audit requirements was considered “substantive.”

Fourteen of the local governments came up with an estimated average cost of $12,378.

Should they be so stingy when it comes to six-figure CAO severance cheques.

When asked to comment on the value of the three reports publicly available during the survey, only two of the 17 agreed they provided “valuable information that will contribute to the improvement of their operations.”

No question about it, Rossland’s nose was out of joint over the audit of their procurement practices.

Here’s how Adrian Barnes, editor of the Rossland Telegraph, summed up the city’s press release: “a sort of dark masterpiece of failed deflection. It’s like something from an episode of House Of Cards as penned by the peevish teenaged son or daughter of one of that show’s writers.”

And the other two communities?

In Sechelt, the AGLG took a look at how plans for a new wastewater treatment plant and a road paving project were handled.

Mayor Bruce Milne was appreciative: “Sechelt is now able to benefit from an independent review that shows us where adjustments and improvements are needed.”

In Dawson Creek, the AGLG did an audit of procurement practices related to the Calvin Kruk Centre for the Arts.

Mayor Dale Bumstead noted the city received “tremendous value” from the audit, adding: “We had actually expected to have to engage consultant expertise to develop a (capital assets) framework, which the report provides for free.”

Since the Kruk Centre came in $7.63 million over budget and three years late a free framework can’t hurt.

Interestingly enough that cost overrun alone would have covered the AGLG’s annual budget for three years.

Dermod Travis is executive director of IntegrityBC.

Categories: BusinessOp/EdPolitics


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