Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume confirmed the decision, but said he could give few details of Bigger’s new deal.
“It’s a private matter between him and city council,” Berthiaume said June 29. “But we have renewed his contract.”
Under provincial rules, councillors are allowed to hold closed-door or ‘in camera’ meetings when matters involving a specific employee are being discussed. Such was the case with Bigger’s new contract, Berthiaume said.
Dan Melanson, head of the Greater Sudbury Tax Payer’s Association, welcomed the news.
“I think it’s a great thing,” Melanson, whose group has ties to Mayor Marianne Matichuk, said. “He’s had a positive effect on taxpayers’ ability to get answers about what’s going on at city hall.”
Bigger’s first order of business, Melanson said, should be to probe city councillors’ ward funds, which the Association derisively refers to as “slush funds.”
“There is no oversight of how these funds are spent at this point and time,” Melanson said. “That is not how the city should operate.”
He said a report on the Healthy Community Initiatives funds, as they’re formally known, is due at the next council meeting in mid-July. The funds amount to about $50,000 a year for each of the city’s 12 wards, and councillors can spend the money with no restrictions.
Councillors have defended the funds as an important tool to support worthy projects in their areas. They voted to increase the amount from $34,000 to $50,000 and rejected a staff recommendation that they be controlled by the city’s Community Development department.
If changes to the way the funds are monitored don’t come after the July council meeting, Melanson said his group will make a court complaint in an attempt to have the funds investigated.
Since becoming the city’s auditor in 2009, Bigger has repeatedly made headlines. He clashed with some city councillors during his audit of Sudbury Transit last year, which uncovered some big issues. Problems with shift trading and the way inventory was being tracked were made public, but it was missing revenue that made headlines.
Bigger’s audit discovered the company contracted to sell transit tickets on behalf of the city owed more than $860,000. The company was in arrears for years, but the contract with the city was renewed anyway, the auditor learned.
The matter is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police, acting on a request from Greater Sudbury Police. The auditor clashed with the city’s solicitor, Jamie Canapini, when Bigger asked to see documents related to the Transit issue.
Canapini argued that they were off limits because of solicitor-client privilege, prompting Bigger to bring in an outside lawyer to offer a legal opinion.
Bigger eventually gained access to all the documents, but not before spending $20,000 on the outside legal advice, and being accused of overstepping his bounds by some members of council.
By his own estimates, his office has identified $1.9 million in potential savings for the city since he began his work 3.5 years ago.
And earlier this year, an audit of Bigger’s office concluded that he was doing an excellent job, earning the accounting equivalent of an ‘A,’ meaning his work is in full compliance with the best accounting practices.
What councillors must now determine is whether Bigger should continue with his value-for-money audits, where departments are audited with an eye on saving money.
The alternative is risk-assessment audits, in which the focus is on examining how departments function and whether they are following the best industry practices.
Posted by Arron Pickard