Two community housing reports simultaneously landed on the desk of Hamilton Councillors at the final council meeting in September—one a recommendation to spend $50 Million on social housing over the next 20 years—the other, an auditor’s report pointing to serious instances of sloppy bookkeeping and negligent contract management at City Housing Hamilton, the city’s overseer of social housing. When Ward Seven Councillor Donna Skelly suggested deferring the $50 million program for two weeks to allow council an opportunity to digest the auditor’s report she was blasted by fellow councillors—five of whom sit on the Housing Board of Directors, chaired by Councillor Chad Collins. The other councillors serving on the board are Jason Farr, Mathew Green, Tom Jackson and Doug Conley.
The report by City Auditor Charles Brown made a number of findings indicating lax financial controls at CHH, among them:
- Significant spending without a competitive process
- Absence of documentation to adequately support the procurement process as it relates to bids/quotes invited and received, award approvals, general conditions, change orders, and emergency situations.
- Procurements made using the incorrect method.
- Significant limitations were noted with the contract management IT system.
The most serious finding was that the same individual was responsible for inviting contractors to tender, selecting the successful bidder and authorizing payment. Wrote the auditor, “The above reflects an inadequate segregation of duties. There is no independent check for errors and/or irregularities. Fraudulent activities could remain undetected for long periods.“ In its response CHH management said this issue would take a year to be rectified.
Despite the auditor’s findings, the majority of council swung into attack mode on Skelly for suggesting any delay in voting the $50 Million allocation to CHH. Alluding to Skelly’s recent announcement that she is seeking a PC nomination in the next provincial election, Collins said ”I do understand that when elections come up, it’s silly season, He called Skelly’s request for a delay to allow the Audit and Finance Committee a chance to discuss the audit findings, “outrageous.”
Several councillors, including Jackson and Partridge implied that Skelly was opposed to providing funds for public housing, something she denied. She told the Bay Observer, “When is the appropriate time to discuss the audit—after the money is spent?”
Councillor Matthew Green accused Skelly of introducing a “gotcha” type of motion. Mayor Fred Eisenberger said it would be “unconscionable” to delay the funding allocation. Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising comment came from Councillor Sam Merulla; whose frequent notices of motion keep him regularly in the media eye; accusing Skelly of “looking for ways of getting headlines, rather than governing. We have to call out this kind of nonsense,” he advised council.
Merulla, along with Councillors Farr and Green chided Skelly for failure to attend a meeting of Community Housing Hamilton a day earlier at which a report from the same auditor was received on the CHH Mohawk Gardens Parking Lot cost overrun issue, which Skelly had raised earlier in the year. Skelly pointed out that she is not a member of CHH and their meetings are not posted on the City Hall meeting schedule. In any event the report in question was the same one that had been sent over to CHH by Skelly’s AF&A committee a month earlier. It detailed how the costs of adding some parking spaces to the CHH –owned housing project had ballooned from $350,000 to over a Million dollars, and how CHH managers had failed to follow proper tendering procedures and contract oversight. In the end the CHH board received the report as information.
After the meeting Skelly told the Bay Observer that she will continue to question the way council spends money when she feels it appropriate. “I really do get concerned that so many of our debates descend into personal attacks. We have to set a better tone,” she said.