We had such high hopes.
When Premier Christy Clark opened the new Auditor General for Local Government (AGLG) office in April 2012, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation was among the most ardent supporters. An auditor general digging into spending at B.C. city halls was bound to save property taxpayers money, and help mayors and councillors learn how to better manage the resources entrusted to them.
More than two years later, this AGLG has fizzled as quick as a Vancouver Canucks first-round draft pick.
AGLG Basia Ruta was appointed in November 2012, and took over the job officially on January 16, 2013 -- after documents obtained by CTV News reporter Jon Woodward showed that taxpayers had shelled out $57,000 to the headhunting firm that found her and another $22,000 to move her here. That's on top of Ruta's annual $199,316 salary.
In the 20 months since her appointment, Ruta has delivered exactly one report: on tiny Rossland in south-central B.C. It centered on an untendered $28,546 contract given to a company owned by a Rossland city employee. That employee left the city and eventually worked as a consultant for another company on another city project that was poorly managed by Rossland officials.
While of intense interest to the people of Rossland, it is hardly instructive to other cities looking to manage costs. The lesson is simple: have good documentation and tender contracts.
A second phase of the Rossland audit was promised for late August, but still hasn't been delivered by the AGLG.
Ruta had promised that three audits, looking at 18 communities, would be completed by spring 2014, grouped into two themes: policing and purchasing. Cities were to include Delta, Vernon, West Vancouver, Surrey, Victoria, New Westminster, and Dawson Creek. Now she claims they will be released in early 2015.
Another two audits looking into drinking water and human resources were originally due in August 2014. Again, none have been delivered.
Making matters worse, no audits will be released until 2015 because there are fears that the findings may interfere with local government elections. As Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Coralee Oakes told the Legislature, "it's very important that we do respect... that time frame between September and November, when local government elections are happening across the province -- that we're respecting local governments in that time and taking that break from the release of these reports."
Given the delays in releasing any AGLG reports, this is ludicrous. What better time for taxpayers to get a report into their city hall than when they can take action to vote their council in or out?
Why shouldn't the mayors and councils of Victoria and Surrey be held accountable by voters for how they manage their police departments? Why shouldn't taxpayers have access to as much information as possible?
We expected a lot more from the AGLG, which costs taxpayers $2.6 million a year. Certainly it was hoped that the savings found by the AGLG would be more than the money it cost to run the office. Thus far, it's not even close.
Later this month, mayors and councillors will gather at their annual Union of B.C. Municipalities bun-toss. It would have been beneficial for taxpayers to have several strong AGLG reports for these elected officials to delve into.
It has been an excruciatingly slow start for AGLG Ruta. Hopefully she picks up the pace and starts aggressively defending taxpayers, as she is legally mandated to do.