Councillors Approve Golf Club Purchase While Rejecting External Auditor General

Mayor Linda Jeffrey swept into the Mayor’s chair in 2014 on a platform of accountability and transparency and now appears livid over recent decisions by council to purchase a private golf club while rejecting the establishment of an external auditor general to review value from the city’s decisions.

After approving another property tax and spending increase in excess of the inflation rate on December 6th, council last week made the surprising decision to purchase the privately held Riverstone Golf and Country Club at 150 Don Minaker Drive just east of Queen St E and Goreway Dr. When originally built as part of a new residential community, homeowners in the development were given a free year of membership with their home purchase. The facility has since had a difficult time attracting residents to pay annual membership fees and has been criticized for being poorly run and maintained.

The decision to purchase Riverstone comes after council authorized $50,000 in May of 2016 to complete a due diligence study at the prompting of Councillor Gael Miles. City staff took the step of negotiating a purchase price with the owner, and the price was discussed by council outside of public scrutiny. Councillor Miles pointed out that the 2018 Budget included $12.6M for the construction of a new east-end community centre, adding to the speculation, controversy and lack of transparency surrounding the due diligence, negotiations and motivations of those involved. Staff reports indicate that the facility will cost taxpayers $1.5M annually to maintain.

During the same meeting last week, council voted against the establishment of an external Auditor General for the city. The role for an Auditor General is to “conduct audits related to outcomes from policies and the value received on those outcomes.”  The Auditor General’s role does not include report on policy decisions.

This decision follows a recommendation by Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé on March 1, 2017 to “consider appointing a permanent, independent Auditor General to provide external oversight.” Mayor Linda Jeffrey has been advocating for this oversight, however, in a report from city staff, including CAO Harry Schlange, the city states:

“Given the commonalities and limited differences between the merits and limitations between an Auditor General and Internal Audit, limited justification can be made to suggest deviation from the City’s current Internal Audit direction given its successes and commitment to accountability and transparency.”

A majority of Councillors sided with city staff’s recommendations. Mayor Jeffrey has since issued a statement critical of her council colleagues who she says “voted against independent oversight of our City.” Councillor John Sprovieri said that “he didn’t support the mayors request for an Independent Auditor General because the Mayor didn’t have a convincing reason for the position and the additional cost to the taxpayers.” He added that “only Toronto, Canada’s largest City has the position in the GTA.” A more detailed explanation was offered by Councillor Elaine Moore:

“Council hired a new CAO in May 2016 who has in turn put in place an entirely new corporate leadership team; and undertaken a corporate wide restructuring and transformational change focussed on accountability, transparency and openness.    Either Council has trust and confidence in our new leadership, or we don’t.  If we don’t, Council needs to make the necessary changes.  If we do, then we provide oversight through our independent Internal Auditor and team. 

There is perception and there is reality – and the reality is that this is NOT a staff lead internal audit process, it is an Independent Internal Auditor and team, with direction and oversight from Council.

Additionally, Council always has the prerogative of appointing an Auditor General when or if an issue arises that requires the expanded legislative powers of an AG; as Brampton Council did when they appointed an Auditor General on the Southwest Quadrant procurement which resulted in an enormous financial cost to our taxpayers; did not produce much needed clarity on the SWQ transaction, nor were recommendations made for improving procurement practices

I believe the direct reporting to Council; the independence of our Internal Auditor and team; and Council approval of the audit work plan provides relevant and exceptional protection for our taxpayers.”

Critics of the decision not to hire an external auditor point out that community groups are forced to provide full audits, from an external provider when they accept city funding. Another resident says that “Councillors need to understand that it is about gaining confidence from those outside Brampton, something we need right now and an external auditor is standard for any organization looking to gain trust.”

Editors Note: 2018 is certainly shaping up to be an interesting election year. We’ll do our best to keep you on top of the issues.

Discuss this issue at Brampton Focus Discussions.