After years of misconduct allegations and investigations Brampton City Hall’s internal audit department remains understaffed
“Internal Audit is not staffed to manage the Ethics Hotline”.
That’s one of the messages in a recent report from the City of Brampton department responsible for accountability in Canada’s ninth largest municipality. It is understaffed, the latest problem for the troubled internal audit function which fell under the control of Patrick Brown shortly after he became mayor.
With just one year on the job, the former head of internal audit, Sunny Kalkat, was suddenly no longer with the City after Brown became mayor and no replacement was named. Eventually, the man Brown hired to run City Hall took over control of the function, which is supposed to be independent. This violated provincial legislation designed to ensure the accountability process is not influenced by the very people whose conduct is policed by internal auditors.
A majority of councillors during the last term were forced to pass motions to restore some authority for the internal audit department after the former CAO hired by Brown had moved the critical watchdog operation under his immediate supervision. David Barrick was eventually fired by the same majority of members after numerous examples of his questionable conduct, including his takeover of the accountability role.
Brown defended Barrick, a former Port Colborne politician with conservative ties to the mayor, who was hired despite no experience in municipal government administration. The mayor looked the other way when it was revealed that Barrick had taken over the audit department’s internal corruption and fraud complaint hotline, which saw a huge spike in calls after he became CAO, City Hall’s top bureaucratic job. Brown ignored concerns and continued to defend him until the six councillors moved last year to finally replace the man hired by the mayor.
But after last October’s election and the departure or retirement of all but two of those former councillors who opposed Brown, the same department responsible for accountability in one of the country’s largest cities is once again facing problems under his leadership.
A staff report received by council members at the November 7 Audit Committee meeting revealed the Internal Audit Division at the City of Brampton has been understaffed over the past year. It claims staff departures caused by “below-market compensation” and “difficulty in filling vacancies” are to blame. The report provides no information on salary benchmarks for auditors in the private and public sectors to back up its claims.
It reveals a concerning lack of oversight over potential misconduct by staff and officials inside City Hall, which has been repeatedly alleged and shown since Brown became mayor. “Internal Audit is not staffed to manage the Ethics Hotline,” the report reveals. “We will continue to monitor the Ethics Hotline on a best-effort basis…”.
The phone line was formerly called the “Corporate Fraud Hotline” but after it was flooded by staff complaints, and after widespread allegations of misconduct by Brown and Barrick, the name was changed to “Ethics Hotline”.
From the launch of the hotline in 2016 to February of 2021, of the 77 complaints that came into the internal audit department, more than 70 percent were during a roughly one-year period after Barrick was hired and while Brown was mayor. After he took over control of the audit function, Barrick dismissed 28 fraud complaints that came in after he was hired, without any investigation conducted.
It was later learned, through an external investigation by Deloitte ordered by a majority of councillors in 2021 that Barrick was running City Hall, under Brown’s leadership, like a frat house. He disregarded job requirements for critical infrastructure work that was supposed to be done by qualified engineers, instead hiring directors of departments who didn’t even have a university degree. Deloitte found that Barrick hired people who didn’t even have basic work experience that was required.
Councillors were dumbfounded when they read the Deloitte report, before they moved to fire Barrick. A commissioner who refused to go along with the former CAO’s schemes was let go. Brown did nothing. Barrick tried to cover up his misconduct by changing “policies and standard operating procedures” while he engaged in the “alleged activity”, Deloitte found.
Former Brampton CAO David Barrick attempted to move the internal audit department under his control prior to being fired by the City.
This was happening while Barrick, under Brown’s leadership, had placed the internal audit department, which was supposed to hold him accountable, under his own authority.
Now, the recent report states Internal Audit has been functioning with just half the employees that are supposed to work in the department for much of this year. Claire Mu, Director of Internal Audit, signed off on the report which says the department should complete a “modified” work load for 2023.
Through the audit committee, the internal audit works to carry out impartial, objective and independent reviews of management practices of different departments at the City of Brampton. The internal audit and committee function to uphold public accountability, so taxpayers are protected from abuse. It also works to ensure compliance with legislation for public reporting and Corporate policies and procedures. Safeguarding City assets, on behalf of taxpayers, is also a key feature. Without internal audit, the City would lack a mechanism to provide accountability to its taxpayers and another breakdown would occur putting the corporation and Brampton’s reputation at risk, once again under Brown. The City of Brampton does not have an auditor general, and the integrity commissioner’s mandate is very narrow, restricted to complaints about elected officials and the specific language in the code of conduct which they design themselves.
The Internal Audit department did critical work before Brown was elected in 2018. As reported by The Brampton Guardian in 2017, it was an internal audit probe that uncovered that senior executives had approved $1.25 million worth of “secretive non-union bonuses” to themselves years before, when Susan Fennell was mayor, without the knowledge or consent of council.
In 2020, the City’s audit committee discovered that Brampton’s Rose theatre had not followed City bylaws for rentals and the collection of outstanding fees, resulting in around $23,000 in labour that was not compensated for. “Significant issues relating to rental agreements and the collection of deposits were raised,” The Pointer reported. In many of the cases, clients were not billed when workers set up their events in advance, meaning taxpayers covered the cost.
Prior audits of the Rose Theatre, in 2008 and 2011 found under Fennell’s leadership hundreds of tickets for events at the theatre were just “given away.” As The Pointer reported, there was “no explanation, sponsorship arrangements lacked proper documentation and often included giveaways that were not authorized and unsigned contracts, along with other egregious bylaw violations such as the failure to collect deposits and fees for clients that did not match the set rates,” which was detailed by the audit committee in 2020.
In 2021, audit committee members accused Barrick of rolling back the independence of the internal audit function and assuming control of the oversight department. Council members on the audit committee wanted answers for why the 28 complaints made by staff to the corporate fraud hotline were shut down without the knowledge of elected officials. Committee members learned that, under Barrick, the fraud allegations were sent to a third-party then dismissed without the elected councillors on the audit committee ever being informed.
After the revelation that another internal audit report was “significantly altered” before management made it public, council voted to officially remove Barrick’s control of the internal audit function. It was restored under council’s direction, with councillor Martin Medeiros, who chaired the audit committee at the time, stating that Barrick’s takeover did not allow for the independent operation of the oversight function.
The Internal Audit works to ensure the responsible and effective use of tax dollars at City Hall.
(The Pointer Files)
Mu highlighted in the recent report that the Internal Audit department is working at a “reduced speed” when it comes to compliance with the Institute of Internal Auditors, due to the staff shortage.
“We expect to move at full speed on this initiative in 2024,” Mu wrote.
Staffing constraints have also delayed completion of several audits, including of existing vendors and the IT department, but the report notes the results should be presented at an audit committee meeting in February 2024. The 2024 Audit Work Plan will also be shared at the February meeting.
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