Tweets that department isn't 'on pause' but is 'up in smoke'
“Hearing that the (Sudbury) office is the latest municipal AG to go up in smoke,” Marin tweeted. “Senior 'independent auditor' now rolled into city finance and AG appointment revoked (at least temporarily).
“Greater Sudbury joins the ranks of the other 6 or so municipalities to have axed their AG.”
Marin was responding to a decision by city council to put the department “on pause” while Auditor General Brian Bigger runs for mayor. When Bigger was granted an unpaid leave of absence July 31 so he could run for office, he said the senior auditor could hire a temporary replacement and continue work on the audit plan for the next 2 1/2 months before the Oct. 27 election.
“There is some additional resources now in the budget for him to hire someone to continue with that plan,” Bigger said, minutes after his leave was granted.
But Ward 10 Coun. Fran Caldarelli, who chairs the city's audit committee, said Aug. 11 that, practically speaking, not much can be done in the AG's office in the 2 1/2 months before the election.
“His department is on pause,” Caldarelli said. “(Bigger) sent all councillors an email about a month ago saying he wouldn't be bringing anything forward until after the election.”
She said the only other person in Bigger's department – Senior Auditor Vasu Balakrishnan, who was hired in February – has been moved to the city's finance department, but only until after the municipal election. At that time, the new mayor and council will have a fresh mandate to decide the future of the internal audit department.
“He's working for the city,” Caldarelli said, of Balakrishnan. “He's doing other work for us in the finance department (since) audit functions are on pause.”
City Solicitor Jamie Canapini said Aug. 12 that, while he was away when the decision was made, the AG's department has not been dissolved.
“My understanding is the office continues to exist,” Canapini said. “But I'll have to review council's specific directions (and) exactly what they decided in respect to Mr. Bigger, and whether a bylaw adjustment will be needed.”
But in a tweet to the ombudsman's twitter, Bigger said work on audits should have continued between now and Oct. 27. His office was actively working on an audit “of questionable invoices,” he said, and next on the workplan was an audit of building permits.
“Funding for extra auditor was to have been paid for with the money saved by my unpaid leave of absence,” he tweeted.
While most councillors and mayoral candidates have come out in support of making the auditor's office permanent, the current bylaw specifically appoints Bigger to the office for a three-year term, with an option to renew for another three years. A new bylaw would be needed to make the office permanent.
The well-documented and difficult relationship between Bigger, city council and staff seemed to improve after an external review of the AG's office in spring of 2013. Soon after the review by internal auditor James Key was made public, councillors extended Bigger's contract for the full three years, and last October, agreed to let him offer a new senior auditor a three-year deal.
At the time, Bigger hailed the new spirit of co-operation and openness on the part of city staff. He said they appeared more accepting of the process and were following the recommendations from the audits.
“I believe this is a really good news story,” Bigger said. “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.”
Balakrishnan was hired four months later, and the first audit of 2014 came four months after that. The audit of the city's purchasing policies was completed in June, followed by an audit of the city's waste management contracts in July.
But the spirit of co-operation had already vanished, and Bigger again butted heads with staff and politicians over both audits.