After years of scandal surrounding Patrick Brown his main election opponent, Nikki Kaur, promises to create Brampton auditor general role
Nikki Kaur, the former Brampton City Hall whistleblower turned mayoral contender, held a press conference Tuesday promising to create an auditor-general office at City Hall, if elected Monday.
After a controversial past term of council involving friends of the mayor getting lucrative contracts and jobs, a major focus of her campaign has been addressing the mismanagement of finances at City Hall.
The Pointer reported on Friday that freedom of information documents revealed Brown charged social media spending for his federal Conservative Party of Canada leadership bid to Brampton taxpayers. Federal election laws do not allow unregistered third parties to pay for campaign expenses and municipal rules prohibit the use of public funds for political campaigns.
It was the latest news about Brown’s questionable conduct as mayor, following four years of controversy inside City Hall. In August he cancelled six third-party forensic investigations probing contracts handed to his friends and associates.
One of the investigations, into the failed Brampton University project, showed procurement rules were broken for two contracts totalling almost $630,000; one of them was handed to the firm of a close friend of Brown, the other was awarded to a close friend of councillor Rowena Santos, Brown’s main ally on council.
After the investigation showed Brown’s friend’s firm was given three times more than what council had approved in 2019, that payments were made to him before work was done and that much of the work was never done, Brown cancelled the investigation.
Kaur said Brampton taxpayers have seen enough.
“I'm proud that Brampton has grown into a major Canadian city, but we haven't created big-city accountability policies the way other big Canadian cities have, and it’s time for an independent auditor general in Brampton,” Kaur told members of the media.
An auditor general could bring a layer of transparency to City Hall that is currently absent.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
Currently there isn’t an auditor general at City Hall. Instead, Brampton has an Office of Internal Audit which provides reportsâ€‹ to an audit committee of Council on a quarterly basis.
The CAO Brown recruited, David Barrick (he was fired early this year), tried to take over control of the internal audit department, before frustrated councillors confronted him publicly. He tried to do the same with the freedom of information process, and Brown defended all his actions, despite the alarming attempt to remove accountability functions from council’s control.
Kaur referenced the Brampton University forensic investigation, cancelled by a motion led by Brown at a council meeting on August 26.
“The problem is bigger than Patrick Brown’s self-serving politics. No CAO or mayor should be able to alter reports before Council can see them. An auditor general office is possible if we ensure accountability tools report directly to council itself.”
Before the Brampton University investigation was cancelled the independent auditors, Froese Forensic Partners, determined Barrick and Santos were involved behind the scenes to ensure Santos’ close friend David Wheeler received a $100,000 contract.
Kaur named Halifax, Vancouver and Winnipeg as examples of cities with an auditor general who provides independent oversight of City Hall operations. Brown has not proposed anything like it, and over the last four years repeatedly tried to have all oversight taken over by Barrick, who was singled out in an earlier investigation into allegations of widespread wrongdoing, after Kaur and other whistleblowers came forward with damning evidence. Barrick was fired after the investigation found he had handed senior positions to people who were completely unqualified and didn’t even meet basic requirements of job postings. The investigation found Barrick broke rules then changed them to cover up what he had done.
The Pointer also reported that complaints into the City’s internal fraud hotline skyrocketed under Barrick but, after he removed the head of the audit department, he shut down the complaints before they could be properly investigated.
Brown defended him throughout and tried to stop a majority of councillors from firing him in February.
On Tuesday, Kaur pointed to other cities where an auditor general has helped council ensure proper accountability and transparency are pillars of local government.
The City of Halifax, which had a population of 439,800 in 2021 (compared to 656,500 residents in Brampton) created its auditor general position in 2009. Within the office’s first year it closed 16 investigations into illegal and irregular conduct.
The mission of Halifax’s auditor general is, “To deliver independent audits that strengthen accountability and encourage improved efficiency and effectiveness of programs.”
Vancouver’s auditor general office is relatively new with the first auditor general stepping into the role in 2021 after the passage of a bylaw the previous year.
According to the bylaw, the auditor general is accountable only to council and will not report to or be accountable to City staff.
The position is responsible for carrying out financial compliance and performance audits of all programs, activities and functions of all City departments, the offices of the mayor and members of council, boards and city-controlled corporations.
"For the first time, the City will have independent assurance of the stewardship of public funds, joining every other major city in Canada,” Vancouver Councillor Colleen Hardwick said in the City’s press release announcing the appointment.
In Winnipeg, the City's auditor general is responsible for ensuring operations are carried out with due regard for efficiency and responsible use of public funds; procedures have been established to measure and report to council the performance of each department and all affiliated bodies, with recommendations if improvements are needed.
“To be perfectly clear, under no circumstances will the auditor-general report to or take direction from the CAO,” Kaur told reporters. “The CAO will have no authority to intervene in the work of the auditor general. The only role the CAO will have will be to respond publicly to the findings and reports of the auditor-general.”
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