A report into the City’s use of consultants—mainly in public works– painted a troubling picture of cost overruns, lack of business cases for hiring consultants, in some cases paying for consultant advice that was not taken, and a general lack of oversight. City Auditor Charles Brown’s report was short and sweet at 17 pages. Wrote Brown, “Audit Services identified a lack of corporate governance over the hiring and management of consultants including business cases, significant cost coding errors, unbudgeted expenditures, cost overruns, project changes, delays, large contingencies and non-value added activities that do not demonstrate effective and efficient management practices.“
Brown was critical of a long-held staff practice of transferring funding from projects running under budget to those running over budget, with the result that there is no accountability for cost overruns. The same practice was identified in a report from Brown’s predecessor, Ann Pekaruk about 7 years ago—a report that resulted in no action being taken.
Audit Committee Chair Donna Skelly said the findings “shook her faith” in management practices. Councillor Judi Partridge also expressed her “deep concern about these troubling findings.” City Manager Chris Murray and Public Works Director Dan McKinnon were on the hot seat for much of the presentation, Murray promising a full review and recommendations from the Senior Management Team.
Use of consultants in City Capital projects has increased significantly over the past three years from over $20 Million in 2014 to over $35 Million in 2016. A lot of that expenditure has been on upgrades to the water and wastewater system and in the commissioning of a biosolids plant.