“I believe this is a really good news story,” Bigger told members of the audit committee. “Ninety-eight per cent of our recommendations ... have been implemented or partially implemented. That is a very good status. It shows management is committed to implementing the changes.”
For example, the internal audit of roads department last year found that, among other issues, the asphalt formula being used often wasn't up to the standards set out in the contract. But when the formula on four jobs was repeatedly tested last summer, it was a different story.
“The message was delivered and received,” Bigger said. “The proper mix of asphalt was laid for all four projects and all 22 asphalt tests reviewed.”
The method used to repair water main breaks and related work has also changed as a result of an internal audit, Bigger said, resulting in substantial savings. Using trench boxes means repair crews can be reduced from four to three workers, and the work itself does much less damage to the area being repaired.
“With the trench box method, damage to surrounding curbs, sidewalks, medians, retaining walls, lawns, trees etc. was avoided,” Bigger said. “There's significant savings in labour, and in conducting repairs.”
At least part of the improvement is a result of a recommendation last summer from James Key, a renowned internal auditor who reviewed Bigger's department and his relationship with staff. Key called for changes to the way audits are reported, and, most important, for a maturing in the working relationship with city managers.
Bigger said a new reporting system he's using has proved popular, and he's receiving much improved co-operation as a result.
“I've taken to heart the spirit of being collegial and of working with management on these items,” he said Tuesday. “I looked at my peers, and found a process I believe is more effective … and seems to be better received by staff.”
He's simplified the reporting process, putting the focus on action plans that result from the audits, and how well departments are responding to the changes.
Bigger said results are now a mix of self-reporting from departments, and followup testing done independently by his office.
The new format was also popular with the committee. Ward 10 Coun. Frances Caldarelli said information is much easier for everyone to digest.
“I really like this new format,” she said. “I can read it more easily.”
And Mayor Marianne Matichuk praised the new spirit of co-operation.
“I'm very impressed by the amount of work staff has done on the action plans,” Matichuk said. “The success rate here is very, very important.”
Committee wouldn't bite on hiring change
Despite his success getting his recommendations acted upon, AG Brian Bigger had less success convincing the committee to allow him to hire a new senior auditor on a permanent basis, rather than a contract. He argued that more job security would improve the quality of applications, and reduce the turnover that substantially reduces his department's effectiveness.
"The most important element, in my mind, is knowledge retention," he said. "I really believe it is in the interest of the organization.”
But wary of adding to the size of city staff, the committee instead agreed to let Bigger offer candidates a three-year contract, with options to renew for two more years. While not ideal, Bigger said that's a big improvement over the one-year he was able to offer last time and should be enough to attract qualified applicants.