Councillor furious that auditor’s findings on fraud hotline not shared with council
Fear of identifying individual employees means info given only to mayor, city manager
River Councillor Maria McRae is angry and wants policy changes after she was denied basic information on investigations, findings and recommendations by the city’s auditor general into complaints to the fraud and waste hotline.
Auditor General Alain Lalonde’s office received 135 complaints to the hotline last year and did 10 investigations involving allegations of staff incompetence, criminal behaviour, use of corporate resources, conflicts of interest and other issues.
Mr. Lalonde made 130 recommendations based on his investigation findings and city staff disagreed with 13 of them. However, what the cases involved, the recommendations and if they are being complied with as well as all other information is only known to the auditor, the mayor, and the city manager.
Ms. McRae became concerned with a complaint about staff incompetence involving burial certificates. An employee who was supposed to issue the certificates hadn’t been doing the job for years and there was a huge backlog. Ms. McRae found out managers knew about the problem, but did nothing to fix it until Mr. Lalonde’s investigation.
However, when she asked Mr. Lalonde for more facts, she was told she could get no more information despite the auditor general’s duty to report directly to city council.
The city’s legal services department told Mr. Lalonde he couldn’t release the results of any of his investigations to councillors because it would identify individual employees and contravene the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act. Instead, the results of the investigations were given to the city manager and mayor’s office only.
In a memo to Ms. McRae explaining the situation, Mr. Lalonde said he would be open to council re-thinking or changing the procedure.
“Council can decide to change any aspect of this process, which I would be pleased to oblige,” he wrote. “However, unless council directs otherwise, it is expected that the process for the 2007 hotline reports remains the same.”
Ms. McRae said she’s not interested in identifying anyone. But, she feels it’s her duty to make sure steps have been taken to fix the situations, and that the auditor’s recommendations, which are designed to prevent future problems, have been followed.
She said it would be easy to write the reports to protect the identity of individuals, but still provide enough information to councillors.
“I think it’s a farce that council and the public are being kept from knowing what happened in these cases,” she said. “We don’t know what happened. We don’t know whether any of the auditor’s recommendations have been acted on.
“This is not what we envisioned when we created this system. It was to give council and the public confidence that things are being dealt with properly. Now we don’t know what’s happening at all.”
Ms. McRae said she plans to discuss the issue with the economic affairs committee and the audit committee to see if other councillors share her concerns.
Bay Councillor Alex Cullen says he supports Ms. McRae’s views on the situation.
“We should be able to ask what the problems were and what was done to fix it,” he said. “It’s basic stuff, and it’s our job to ensure things are running smoothly at City Hall.”
West Carleton-March Councillor Eli El-Chantiry also shares Ms. McRae’s concerns.
“There’s a level of frustration because we can’t find out the follow-up on the recommendations,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. I know nothing about what is being done about these things. It’s pretty annoying.”