Tag Archives: Secrecy

Dermod Travis: B.C. needs to fix the Community Charter

 from Dermod Travis, Executive Director of Integrity BC, published in the Times Colonist today:

No one could be blamed for wanting to scream “go to your rooms” at some local council meetings across B.C.

Seven of eight Nanaimo city councillors want their mayor, Bill McKay, to quit. Last month, Grand Forks council went to court to force a councillor out. They lost. Greenwood residents tried it last year. Their petition was stayed by the court, but they’re not deterred.

Courts should be the last refuge of citizens or councils wanting to overturn election results.

Judges are reluctant to do so, and it takes more than a dysfunctional personality to persuade them otherwise.

Meanwhile, in Vancouver — under the cover of darkness — councillors voted themselves a 12.6 per cent pay raise this month.

Add in the additional goodies — such as a $3,048 annual supplement for extended health coverage for all, monthly supplement increases, one-time payments to councillors and parks board commissioners — and it comes to 17 per cent.

Rubbing salt into the wound, they then made it all retroactive to Jan. 1. Try that with your boss on Monday.

In support of the move, council relied on a report from a handpicked panel that considered the pay of six other Canadian cities and three in B.C.

The panel might have cherry-picked some of the cities to support their findings. A few such as Quebec City didn’t make the cut. It might not have been as helpful to the cause as Calgary was.

Three councillors — George Affleck, Melissa De Genova and Andrea Reimer — opposed the salary increase and lump-sum payments.

A reader of this column recently wrote: “Your article ‘B.C. budget 2016 devoid of any real purpose’ did not offer any solutions, but there is one universal solution — full and understandable public transparency in the budgeting process.”

He drew attention to the Government Finance Officers Association’s Canadian Award for Financial Reporting to Central Saanich and Oak Bay’s lack of an award.

He’s right, but could have gone further.

The problem with some councils is transparency, period. When most communities in B.C. have more in-camera meetings than the City of Toronto, there’s a problem.

In Ontario, councils are entitled to go in-camera to consider six specific matters.

According to the Union of B.C. Municipalities, there are four reasons that councils must go in-camera and more than a dozen reasons why they “may” close a meeting.

The nuance between “may” and “must” seems to have been lost on a few.

Scrubbing public question periods — as White Rock did last year — rather than finding a way to make them work, is another frequent knee-jerk reaction.

Fighting freedom-of-information requests tooth and nail seems to be standard operating procedure at most city halls.

At an International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy conference — Integrity in Local Governments: Mitigating the Risks of Conflict of Interest, Fraud and Corruption — Vancouver lawyer Maegen Giltrow noted: “A reticence against transparency, taken too far in municipal affairs, can reach criminal conduct.”

There’s the “nope, not our responsibility” syndrome that stretches right up to Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Peter Fassbender.

Fassbender replied to a citizen’s complaint last month with: “The ministry does not intervene in the daily functions of a local government … If you believe that the town has failed to comply with provincial legislation, or has otherwise acted outside of its authority, you may wish to seek legal counsel to determine any potential remedies.”

That’s nice. It falls on citizens to retain legal counsel to enforce provincial legislation.

Maybe one day the B.C. government will get around to fixing the Community Charter as it applies to conflict-of-interest rules, but in the meantime, councillors could follow a simple one: When in doubt, step out.

And if the government ever did decide to accept its constitutional responsibility over local governments, it could start by establishing provincewide policies on everything from councillor salaries to transparency.

It would save everyone a lot of grief.

 

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.

– See more at: http://www.timescolonist.com/opinion/columnists/dermod-travis-b-c-needs-to-fix-the-community-charter-1.2221623#.dpuf.

Source: Dermod Travis: B.C. needs to fix the Community Charter

 

Financial Mismanagement City of North Van?

$692,000 ??? We believe the buck stops at the desk of the CEO.

Our (Voices) policy has been not to publish allegations without proof. Here is the proof for rumours going back to last summer, before the November civic election.  Is this secrecy, cover-up or incompetence?

MONEY MATTERS AT THE CITY OF NORTH VANCOUVER

By: Kerry Morris – April 24, 2015
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It was July 31st 2014, and we were right in the midst of the election. I caught wind there was a massive problem with the City of North Vancouver’s water meter billing to Vancouver Coastal Health (‘VCH’) for Lions Gate Hospital. The rumour was that the City had lost approximately $450,000 through a water meter failure. I requested the documents in relation to this matter by way of a Freedom Of Information (‘FOI’) request on the City Clerk (http://kerrymorris.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Initial-FOI-Request.pdf). In what was a breach of law, the City used up it’s legal time for document production, then on October 30th 2014 (http://kerrymorris.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/CNV-Formal-Response.pdf)  informed me that “…We [the City] require payment in full, for retrieving and photocopying the records responsive to your request, before we proceed further in processing the file…”. This communication also asked for prepayment of a fee of $235 before they would even begin the search.
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The City’s target had always been to stall out the production of these records until after the election. The internal decision for the delay had been conveyed as a requirement to locate and copy the documents, but the October 30th letter made it clear no hunting or copying had or would occur until delivery of the FOI payment, and the time clock for delivery of the documents would only then begin. This successfully resulted in delaying the release of the documents until after the election. This delay was important for several reasons. First, it could, by way of payment, allow coverup of the billing loss thereby avoiding further embarrassment for the Mayor and the CEO for having allowed the loss. Second, it would hide a failure to disclose these financial errors within the City’s audited annual statements. Third, it would keep the investigation regarding systemic management failures within the City to remain confidential.
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Today, VCH, responding in part to an FOI served on them on March 11, 2015, delivered the first phase of the release (http://kerrymorris.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/VCH-Phase-1-FOY-Release.pdf), some 60 pages of documents. At page three of the release the document discloses that the City allegedly under-billed VCH an estimated $692,000 in relation to water and sewerage services provided to VCH by the City. It turns out that beginning in the fall of 2009, and continuing on through to the end of the first quarter of 2012, the City billed VCH only 1/10th of the actual value for water consumption and sewerage charges properly applicable during this period.
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The City initially asked VCH to pay the full $692K value of the under-billing. They subsequently reduced their demand to only $375K. It is not yet clear if this amount was eventually paid by VCH. We will have to wait for the final figures which won’t arrive until the Phase-2 document release is delivered. VCH, are still awaiting the City’s approval to release the additional documents. The City’s delay in responding has stalled VCH causing them to request a 30 day time extension. In the circumstances VCH are being fair and reasonable. The final phase of the document release is not expected till June 8th 2015.
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My initial News Release on this topic dated November 28th 2014 (http://kerrymorris.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/NEWS-RELEASE-Water-Meter-Billing-Error-2.pdf), alleged the City’s loss was the result of a meter failure. It was not. The meter failure appears to have caused an over-billing situation which began in the Fall of 2004 and lasted through till the Fall of 2009. At this point the City replaced the hospital meter and for the next three years failed to read the new meter correctly. This should have been easily discovered, as it resulted in a significant change in the annual utility cost for Lions Gate Hospital.
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To their credit, VCH staff made repeated attempts to educate the City in regard to these billing errors, but the City rejected these overtures, so eventually VCH took the savings and reduced it budget to reflect the downward change in billed utility costs.
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As a result of the honesty shown by VCH staff, the City had little if any ability to do a retroactive billing to reflect the lost income. Moreover, the investigation process also disclosed an over-billing condition and VCH had a legal right of offset, but on a claim which would be harder to prove.
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When this whole matter was eventually revealed, the City was compelled to request an internal audit for systemic failure. This confidential audit was conducted by KPMG. The purpose of the audit was to determine how such a huge mistake could go undetected for such a long period of time, despite being questioned repeatedly by VCH. The KPMG audit was requested as a part of the FOI served on the City, but Ms. Graham fanned ignorance and declined to confirm she would allow that document in the release if pursued.
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Isabel Gordon, who was required to fall on the sword for this one, was compelled to explain why the drop in annual utility income had not been detected, and like any good leader, claimed the buck stopped at her desk and accepted responsibility. But if the truth be known, her trusted second in command should also have discovered the mistake, and in my opinion was equally responsible. What is sad is that he was propelled into Isabel’s role as a result of her departure, benefiting from his own failure. But the question I have is: Why didn’t any of this make it into our audited financial statements? This error is now known to range between $357K and $692K. Where I come from that’s a lot of money. That is the equivalent of the City giving away a publicly owned house. If we’re going to set about losing money, why don’t we give it to someone that really needs it?
Full document with supporting evidence here:
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Secrets of the City

Voices comment:  Some residents in the City of North Van have been increasingly concerned about the amount of business conducted out of the public eye (closed meetings).  

Posted yesterday by Bill Bell was an article by Kerry Morris concerning Mr Tollstam and the CNV’s culture of secrecy:

 http://www.northvancitynews.com/tollstam-goes-wild/.

Posted today by Guy Heywood on his blog is this article that talks to recent comments and controversy about shared policing costs and a government that “would prefer to do some of that work in secret”:

I wrote an earlier blog (http://www.guyheywood.ca/blog-north-vancouver-city-government/policing-the-costs-of-being-a-distinct-community) that talked about the way in which policing costs will increase as a result of the City government`s wish to define a distinct official community within its boundary. This is pretty important since policing is the biggest single line item on most local government`s budgets. I had missed it in most of the analyses that I had been doing up to that point in time.

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The issues only came to my attention because of a letter written by the Mayor of the District on behalf of his Council, along with a number of attachments that I had not seen before. The letter was a complaint about statements made by the City Manager regarding shared policing costs and the attachments supported the complaints. Neither the letter from the Mayor of the District nor the transmittal email from the Mayor of the City identified the letter and attachments as confidential.

I was not informed of the outcome of the complaint during the balance of my term on Council and took an opportunity to bring it up at a public input session at the beginning of the January 12th Council meeting. At the same time I posted the letter and attachments as part of a longer blog that same day. 

On January 23rd Mr. Tollstam,  the City Manager, wrote the attached letter saying that I had breached duties and demanding that I remove the documents from my website. I received his letter on January 29th. I do not believe that I have breached any duties or that the documents should be kept secret. I have responded with a request for clarification (also below).  

Since I do not intend to hire a lawyer to deal with this matter. If after receiving my clarification the City and its lawyers insist that the demand is within the rights of the City, I will remove the documents. 

My only motivation has been, and continues to be, to advocate for rational and transparent government that serves and is shaped by the community. The one we have now appears to feel it should be doing the shaping to suit its own purposes and would prefer to do some of that work in secret.

Read more: http://www.guyheywood.ca/blog-north-vancouver-city-government/the-secrets-of-the-city

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