Councillor Pouget cites difficulty getting town’s financial info

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A member of town council is questioning how to get town financial data, citing difficulties in obtaining information.

Noting she was mentioned in a report by chief administrative officer Mike Phipps on clarification of the auditor’s role, Councillor Diane Pouget said she has experienced repeated difficulty in getting her questions answered.

Pouget told council that she submitted 11 questions to the town’s auditors in 2011 and resubmitted those questions along with an additional seven concerns in 2012.

“Neither time did I receive any acknowledgement until I sent my third request asking if they got my concerns,” said Pouget.

Pouget said she has posed questions both publically and privately and has not received the answers she has been seeking.

“When is it appropriate to ask questions on finances?” she questioned. “I can’t get an answer privately and now I’m told I can’t ask publically.”

In his written report to council, Phipps stated the role of the auditors “has been discussed with Lindsay Rounding of Graham, Setterington, McIntosh, Driedger and Hicks, the town’s auditor. Council is reminded that the purpose of the questions from the auditor to council members is to determine if there is any additional work required by the auditor beyond those financial issues normally addressed.”

Phipps report continued, “the auditor’s e-mail to council members requesting feedback included the following statement at the end of the e-mail, ‘all responses that are received will be kept in strict confidence and will only be used in assessing the risk of the financial statement audit with the (appropriate) year-end date..’ The Auditor emphasized that any comments from council members ‘…are supposed to be in strict confidence…. as they are questions about the effectiveness of management.’ She adds ‘… nor is it appropriate to address these items in a public forum.’”

Phipps’ report went on to say that “the auditor noted that she was caught off guard when questioned about not addressing the issues raised. However, she did note that her firm did significant additional work in 2011 and 2012 to ensure a ‘clean audit report.’”

Phipps stated that Rounding advised that she did look at each of the 11 items raised by Pouget in 2011 and 2012 “but determined that they were not items to be addressed in an audit report. She noted that the firm does not typically follow up with each council member on the specifics of that member’s answers to the questions. If the council determines that each member should have private follow-up, the auditor will do that once council makes that request. It is suggested to council that if this is the desired direction, the request be by resolution and that all members be provided with responses. These responses will obviously result in additional audit costs.”

The role of the auditor’s role is to assess risk to the municipality based on the responses from individual council members, Phipps added, noting “it is not the Auditor’s role to pursue any issues raised by council members.”

Rounding was also “quite correctly” in stating that if council members are concerned about the performance of management or any administration, this is more properly raised with and addressed by the CAO, added Phipps.

Pouget told council she “went to three CAO’s and I’m still waiting for answers. I’ve been asking about the debt since Day 1.”

Noting she has also sought advice from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Ombudsman, she pressed her colleagues to “start playing hardball” and “ask the tough questions on behalf of the taxpayers.”

Mayor Wayne Hurst said he didn’t want to get into a debate with Pouget on the matter, but stated she can ask questions on the town’s finances anytime.

Phipps told Pouget he has been working on some of the issues Pouget has raised and vowed to get back to her with the answers she has sought.

“If you give me the questions, I’ll give you the answers,” Phipps told Pouget.

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