The squeaky wheel will get the grease as problems within the City of Rossland’s tendering, contracting and project reporting practices brought to light earlier this year are to be addressed by a higher power.
The province’s newly created Auditor General for Local Government (AGLG) office has agreed to wade into the tangle created when the city’s former building inspector Jason Ward’s own company was able to bill the city $185,000 for arena renovations, unbeknownst to council.
Councillor Kathy Moore brought the matter to light in council in late 2012 and a municipal auditor looked into the matter, coming back with a letter saying it wasn’t handled as it should have been, but “there was no material financial impact and did not impact the audit.”
Moore’s letter to the municipal auditor and the response were not made public until a Freedom of Information request was made several weeks later.
“There were a lot of questions about what happened and council was just not that interested at the time,” said Moore. “There have been some things the city is doing, which are not public at this point. So it’s not a dead issue.”
However, in spring council passed a motion to ask the AGLG to look at several different aspects of city operations.
Council voted in favour of asking the AGLG to look at: powers council has delegated to the chief administrative officer; adequacy of policies for tendering, contracting, project management and reporting; adequacy of accountability and management of arena project; and a review of hiring and contracts for senior staff.
However, the auditor has only agreed to look at the adequacy of city policies for tendering, contracting, project management and reporting.
“In my opinion, there were areas we needed help with, so I brought it to council’s attention and they agreed,” said Moore. “Would they have agreed had the public not got involved? I don’t think so. There was plenty of time for council to take action and they didn’t.”
On Jan. 3 Mayor Greg Granstrom held a public meeting to air concerns over the arena renovations and the city inspector’s behaviour. Over 80 people packed the senior’s centre to hear what had happened with the $1.2-million project—which included a new roof—and what the city was going to do about it.
Although council said in the meeting the matter would be looked into it, no report has been issued to date.
In the interim, council resolved to direct staff to hire a qualified inspector to review the work contracted to ADA Co. Inc. for the Rossland Arena in 2010 and 2011. Council also directed staff to ensure “that the structural component of the work performed on the Rossland Curling Arena is inspected.”
In the coming audit the provincial office is expected to make recommendations to council on the best means to provide adequate oversight of contract services and project management and to reduce the possibility of fraud in the future. The province has contracted with KPMG and Grant Thornton to assist in the conduct of the performance audits.
Basia Ruta, auditor general for local government, said the AGLG will share best practices and lessons learned to improve governance.
“And I see a lot of improvement that Rossland could make,” said Moore.
Last month councillor Cary Fisher passed motion to strike a committee to look at the procurement and tendering policy and how the city manages it.
“That was the crux with the arena: how was this allowed to happen? And how can we prevent it from happening in the future? That’s what we really need to know now,” said Moore.
By requesting the inquiry and sharing the results, council will be providing full disclosure to the citizens of Rossland and will be able adopt recommendations and best practices to improve governance in the future, said Ruta in a letter to council.
Individual audit reports for City of Rossland are expected for web release in the last quarter of 2013/14.
RE: motion for inquiry to the Auditor General for Local Government – amended
That the Auditor General for Local Government advise council if her office is the appropriate authority to look into the matters listed below as a) to h) and to:
1. Advise council if the AGLG would be restricted in an examination of any of the listed matters, and if so the extent to which an examination could be undertaken;
2. Advise council if, in the AGLG’s opinion, a preliminary examination should be undertaken to identify areas where further examination may be warranted;
3) Advise council if there is another more appropriate course of action to follow to address these concerns.
The AGLG is requested to undertake an inquiry, pursuant to it’s individual mandate, into the conduct of the City of Rossland’s business involving all matters concerned with and relating to in any way the following:
a) Commitments made by successive councils of the City of Rossland, in open and closed meetings from January 1, 2007 to present, having the effect of limiting present and future councils’ discretion, power, and authority to adopt, amend, and/or repeal bylaws or the delegation of other powers and to provide recommendations and best practice information so as to improve the governance of the city.
b) A review of internal City of Rossland controls with emphasis on tendering, contracting and project reporting practices for the purpose of making recommendations to Council on the best means for Council to provide adequate oversight of contract services and project management and to reduce the possibility of fraud.
c) A review of employees, past and present, of the City of Rossland in a position of responsibility to inform and advise Council in matters relating to responsible, accountable, and law-conforming governance of the municipality who were, or should have been aware of any issues with the Arena Improvement project (2009-2012), and failed to inform Council of such issues in accordance with their positions as employees of the City of Rossland and to offer best practices information on staff-council accountability and communications.
d) A review of the steps and actions that were taken by city staff and council once wrongdoing on the Arena Improvement project was discovered and make suggestions of how the situation could have been handled to reflect good governance.
e) A review and appraisal of commitments made by present and past councils, in open and closed meetings from January 1, 2007 to present in all management contracts and hiring procedures approved by Council directly, or indirectly on behalf of Council by the CAO and to provide best practices for staff and council contracts and hiring procedures.
f) To pursue any other matter or issue coming to the Auditor General’s attention in the course of inquiring into the matters above.
g) To submit to Council a full and complete report on findings and recommendations.
h) To make the Auditor General’s final report available in its entirety to the public in general and to the citizens of the City of Rossland specifically.
Source: City of Rossland