Mayor Frank Leonard says Saanich’s front door will be open to the B.C. municipal auditor if she comes knocking.
Since first hearing in August 2011 that the provincial government was moving on plans to have someone inspect municipal books, he’s welcomed the idea with optimism.
“If they walk in and recommend we should change something, I would welcome that recommendation if it’s going to save taxpayers money,” Leonard said.
Premier Christy Clark has appointed chartered accountant Basia Ruta as the auditor general for local government. Her office will launch in January.
Clark’s ministers for local government, Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Ida Chong and now Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett, have emphasized that the Surrey-based auditor will compare similar communities through performance audits and publish recommendations on those that are more efficient.
Leonard said that while the findings will be just that, recommendations, it would be political suicide not to treat them as binding.
“I can’t imagine a politically elected council saying, ‘We’re going to ignore this recommendation,’” he said. “This auditor general is going to have considerably more credibility than any politician.”
Leonard was one of only a handful of municipal politicians who was open to the idea when it was first announced.
Some complained about an extra layer of costly bureaucracy, while others said the province was going to impose tax rate changes on communities.
Those concerns faded as the province assured local politicians they wouldn’t lose autonomy, and who also faced the prospect of campaigning against extra accountability. Clark promised there would be no costs passed on to local governments to run the auditor’s office.
“(The idea) got off to a rough start,” Leonard said. “(Municipal governments) have to balance budgets, by law. The province doesn’t. So there was a cynicism to it, a sense of reaction, and I kept saying, ‘We’ve got to rise above all that. It’s taxpayers’ money.’”
Ruta has worked in the federal auditor general’s office and was chief financial officer for Environment Canada, as well as in private practice auditing local government, hospital and community organizations.
Saanich’s former chief administrative officer Tim Wood, who retired in May, will be part of a committee that oversees the municipal auditor general’s office.– with files from Tom Fletcher