Vancouver City Council takes next steps to establish municipal Auditor General

Nov 13 2020, 6:01 pm

The City of Vancouver is progressing with the city council driven effort of establishing the new Auditor General’s Office (AGO) for the municipal government.

City council approved a series of recommendations outlined in a report by Municipal Auditor General Informal Working Group, comprised of independent councillor Rebecca Bligh, Green Party councillors Adriane Carr and Pete Fry, and NPA councillors Lisa Dominato, Colleen Hardwick, and Sarah Kirby-Yung.

The work performed to date on forming the AGO began with city council’s Fall 2019 approval of a motion by Hardwick calling for an independent office that enhances and monitors the city’s fiscal accountability and performance.

The establishment of the AGO is currently targeted for 2021, with operating costs estimated to be $2 million annually. City council believes the fiscal savings identified by the independent entity will offset the operating cost and result in net savings for the municipal government.

A new Auditor General Recruitment Committee is led by Bligh, Carr, Dominato, Hardwick, and Kirby-Yung.

The working group also identified the need for between eight to 10 staff working for the office by 2022, as well as separate technology requirements and secure office space that is inaccessible to regular city staff.

However, the AGO is opposed by city manager Sadhu Johnston for reasons that include excluding the City Manager’s Office (CMO) from any involvement in the process of developing the new entity.

In his explanation, Johnston says he AGO “will likely be dependent on city staff for information in the formulation of their audits and Council will likely expect responses and follow-up on the reports. These requirements on staff time have not been taken into account and could amount to a considerable level of effort from senior staff, who are already stretched very thin.”

The CMO also asserted the proposed staff size appears to be equivalent to larger cities such as Ottawa and Edmonton, even though Vancouver’s municipal budget is considerably smaller.

It is also suggested that the salary of the Auditor General is too high, as it is equivalent to starting salary of the general manager of engineering services who “fulfills a complex statutory role” and is responsible for over 2,000 staff.

Additionally, the CMO states the city already has an Internal Audit function, but adding an AGO would amount to duplication.

“The vast majority of cities in Canada have either an Internal Audit function or an Auditor General function and very few have both,” reads the city manager’s comments.

“The potential for duplication in work is high, therefore, the work of the Auditor General’s functions and that of the Internal Audit function would benefit from close coordination and alignment and it may be worth considering having the Internal Auditor sit in Auditor General meetings and vice versa.”

In September, Johnston announced his decision to leave the City of Vancouver in early 2021.

Johnston has been with the City of Vancouver for 11 years, filling the role of city manager for five years. Prior to that, he was the deputy city manager for six years.

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