March 26, 2014

Mayor continues push for independent auditor

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Lou Maieron has succeeded in advancing his idea of hiring an auditor general, or other outside expertise, to assist with a review of town operations.

Council agreed to consider hiring help for the Operational Review, with actual funding for the move to be debated in upcoming budget meetings.

Only Councillor Barb Tocher voted against the motion, with Councillor Deb Callaghan declaring a conflict since her husband is the Fire Chief and could potentially be affected by the review. 

Maieron said he thought it was reasonable to put $20,000 to $30,000 (equivalent to a half-percent tax increase) for this in the 2014 budget. 

Councillor Josie Wintersinger supported the motion, despite doubts about the suggested cost. “I don’t feel we can move ahead with that amount of money – it’s going to cost more than that,” she said.

The mayor said the amount was not much different from the cost of the Integrity Commissioner’s investigation that found him in violation of the Code of Conduct. That was expected to cost $12,000 to $15,000, but Maieron said it ended up at $18,750. He said he could have put Code of Conduct charges forward against other councillors, but did not.

“I don’t want to burden the taxpayers,” he said. “I’d rather spend the $20,000 in an operational review, so that we can see if we can do our jobs better, or we can assist staff in doing their jobs better.”

Maieron asked for a show of hands among residents attending the meeting whether they supported starting an operational review, and many hands were raised. The idea of a review was initiated last year, and while there has been internal review going on, Maieron said council has not been updated.

“I don’t believe that staff can do an operational review of themselves,” the mayor said.

Brennan noted that staff have already been taking steps internally, under the direction of CAO Kathryn Ironmonger, “towards reorganizing themselves, finding efficiencies and better uses of staff.”

Councillor Wintersinger said, “I don’t think we’re against doing an operational review whatsoever. We never have been. It’s just that we were trying to keep the taxes down. We had decided that since Kathryn had decided on her own initiative to make some changes which were for the better of the corporation, that she may continue to do it. At some time we did intend to have an operational review, but we need to have the right amount of money set aside.”

Councillor John Brennan said auditors general are more common for cities than for small towns.

“I think an operational review, bringing some from the outside periodically, is a good thing to do. I’m not sure I want to spend a lot of money to hire an auditor general who will then go out and hire a consulting company to come and do the review,” he said. 

“To me it makes more sense to cut out the auditor general and go outside and get someone to do an operational review. I’m not sure what we’ll get for $20,000 to $30,000. I would like to have some assurance that we’re actually going to get something meaningful at the end of it. We have to get some kind of report on what’s available.”

Maieron said he would be interested in hiring either an auditor general or a consulting firm to assist with the review.