Auditor General Brian Bigger faced some tough questions Oct. 23, as members of the city’s audit committee openly challenged findings in his annual report.
The toughest line of questioning came from Ward 2 Coun. Jacques Barbeau, who accused Bigger of “sensationalizing” the work the auditor’s office has done.
“I think there’s some good stuff in here, but you can’t sensationalize the work being done in your department because it’s a good read in the newspaper,” Barbeau said. “Let’s not put stuff into the report that really wasn’t part of the audit.”
Specifically, Barbeau questioned why Bigger’s office was taking credit for such things as Sudbury Transit going to a fully wheelchair-accessible fleet to save money on Handi-Transit costs.
The idea is for more people with accessibility issues to take city transit buses, rather than the far more expensive Handi-Transit service.
“Those were council decisions,” he said. “And when it comes to (Sudbury) Transit services, in your report you talk about how, 11 months after the audit started, the fleet section was consolidated under the director of transit and fleet services. That had absolutely nothing to do with the audit ... That was our CAO Doug Nadorozny.”
In response, Bigger said his audit of Sudbury Transit began in summer 2010, but wasn’t complete until 2011.
Some of the changes implemented at city hall were the result of questions being asked by his department as part of the audit process. Just because they weren’t included in the final audit report doesn’t mean they didn’t happen as a result of the audit.
“I don’t feel this is sensationalizing the work that we’re doing,” he said.
“A number of responses occurred during the process of the audit in response to lines of inquiry — things we were looking at … Announcements had already been made, resolutions passed on a number of issues, so it didn’t necessarily make it into the audit report.”
He said the methods he uses for calculating the impact of his office is the same as other auditors use and are generally accepted in the industry.
Barbeau said they would have to “agree to disagree.” He and other councillors also wanted clarity on the $2.1 million Bigger says his office has saved the city since he began his work in 2009.
Barbeau said it gives the public the impression that they have already cut $2.1 million from the budget.
“Quite frankly, that would be very misleading for our taxpayers to hear as we’re going into the budget process,” he said.
“The public has to understand that we still have those employees, they’re still costing us money, but they’re being used more productively and we’re getting more production out of those departments.”
Bigger agreed, saying what his office has done is found ways for some departments to operate more efficiently, allowing managers to reallocate resources and staff where they’re needed most.
“Clearly, there’s not a direct link to the tax levy from our findings,” Bigger said.
It’s very important that we support the office of the auditor general.
Mayor Marianne Matichuk,
speaking following the auditor general's annual report
“We freed up resources. It was then reinvested by management, and council accepted that reinvestment … But it’s not a direct savings right off the tax levy.”
Despite the criticisms, Barbeau thanked Bigger for his work and said he was encouraged by the improved working relationship between staff and the auditor.
“We’re getting to the point now that we’re starting to see the auditor general and staff work together to find efficiencies in the corporation,” he said.
Mayor Marianne Matichuk agreed, and said the auditor is helping to bring a new mindset to the city.
“It’s very important that we support the office of the auditor general,” she said.
“Something we’ve talked about over and over again is whether there are areas where we can find there are too many people, and move them to other areas. I think that’s very important. Finding efficiencies is the bottom line. If we’re working better and we’re more efficient, that’s very important.”
In his report to council, Bigger said he has made 157 recommendations on how to improve operations, and said the city is getting a great return for its investment in his office.
“In simple terms, for every $1 invested in the audit process the return on this investment has been $5.78,” Bigger’s report states. “Many of the estimated cost savings are ongoing and occur on an annual basis.
“Audits are a catalyst, an enabler for change,” Bigger writes. “Transparency and accountability has certainly been heightened. Policies and procedures have certainly been improved. A positive cultural shift accelerated.”
Bigger’s contract was renewed over the summer, although no one will say for how long. His audits have generated controversy at times. The audit of Sudbury Transit’s kiosk uncovered more than $800,000 in missing ticket money. The matter is still under investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police.
And his review of how roads are built and maintained in Greater Sudbury found that 30,000 tonnes of recycled asphalt can’t be accounted for in city stockpiles.
When speculation grew that this finding somehow implied criminal activity, the city was quick to say that what Bigger’s audit found was problems with the way inventory is tracked. The asphalt isn’t missing, they said, and instead was used for projects like repaving shoulders and laneways.
The roads audit also found that city inspectors weren’t ensuring the asphalt mix being used on city roads was the same as the one required in the contract tender.
Also, problems were found with inspections of completed roads, many of which were cracking shortly after completion.
For the current year, audits being worked on include one of how the city’s system of user fees operates and one of the city’s waste management (garbage) system.