February 25, 2021 (2 Minute Read)
Brampton City Council is turning its head towards substantially bolstering the accountability measures in place at City Hall.
On Tuesday, February 23rd, the Audit Committee unanimously approved a one-year extension for the City’s Corporate Fraud Prevention Hotline service while also directing staff to study the processing of whistleblower complaints at City Hall.
The extension was limited to one year to allow the Council to decide on a generational accountability reform at City Hall: creating a local Office of the Municipal Ombudsman and an Office of the Auditor General.
Last month, Mayor Patrick Brown and Councillor Rowena Santos received the unanimous support of their Council colleagues in directing city staff to research and determine what resources would be required to establish a Municipal Ombudsman and an Auditor General. The resolution outlined the office would report directly to Council and require Council’s unanimous consent to appoint an individual to the respective roles.
“At the end of the day, I just want to make sure we can confidently say that we have every accountability and transparency mechanism available to municipalities,” Brown said to his Council colleagues during their consideration of the resolution in January.
Coincidentally, during the last term of Council, the Ontario Ombudsman recommended establishing a local Auditor General after investigating the City’s Southwest Quadrant project. That Council opted to stick with an internal audit function despite the Ontario Ombudsman’s recommendation to the contrary.
Provincial legislation (known as the Municipal Act) provides several accountability tools to municipalities in Ontario. While the City of Toronto is required by law to have a suite of accountability officers and processes, other municipalities are only required to have codes of conduct for their elected officials and a retained integrity commissioner to investigate code of conduct complaints. Rather than mandating other accountability tools, Cities outside Toronto have the discretion to adopt the other accountability measures.
For instance, the City of Brampton has already implemented the option of a lobbyist registry, that tracks which companies, groups, and individuals have contacted elected officials regarding City business.
The Auditor General function, in principle, dwarfs the abilities of an internal corporate audit department. Provincial legislation provides elected officials to appoint their own Auditor General that reports directly to them and operates outside the existing bureaucracy. A local Auditor General has the authority to conduct financial, operational, forensic, and other unique reviews of City departments or other entities related to it.
Notably, a local Auditor General has provincial law on its side in providing legal access to any materials deemed necessary to perform their duty.
Several other municipalities in Ontario have already adopted the voluntary Auditor General model, including Hamilton, Sudbury, and Ottawa. As referenced, Toronto is required by the province to employ the function.
With a population greater than Hamilton and Sudbury, Canada’s 9th largest city is well-positioned to follow suit.