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Déjà vu All over again

 

Déjà vu All over again

John Best

At today’s Audit, Administration and Finance Committee meeting it was a rerun of last week’s Governance committee meeting, where councillors expressed growing uneasiness with a work plan submitted by the city’s integrity commissioner last week. Essentially councillors wanted the Integrity Commissioner to submit a hard cost cap on various activities that it was proposing to undertake. Councillors last week and again today expressed discomfort with the notion of a consultant developing its own workplan and then determining the amount of billable hours it would apply to each task. The Integrity Commissioner, a firm known as Principles Integrity, tried to clarify matters by sending a letter to the audit committee warning that if they were to provide a hard cost cap to its activities it would have to insert so many caveats to protect itself that “we would have to include every possible contingency, resulting in a meaningless dollar limit, so high as to provide the Committee with little guidance.”

The letter continued, “We have already provided the Sub-Committee with an estimate of less than $10,000 for the entire work plan, based on our work with other municipal clients similar to Hamilton. Breaking down that estimate, we anticipate the following time commitments:

  • Review of Code of Conduct, including review of investigation and reporting protocols –10 hours
  • Provision of draft Council/Staff Relations Policy (2-5 hours)
  • Guidance regarding Members’ roles on external bodies (5-10 hours)
  • Local Board governance issues, including revised code of conduct (10 hours)
  • Such other matters as may be assigned (unknown).

The audit committee spent about two hours debating the issue today, and a number of members still insisted that they were uncomfortable with a consultant setting its own work plan and then billing against it. But staff, under questioning, reported that the items on the work plan were ones that the city had specified in its request for proposals. The consultant made a similar point in its letter to the committee, “At the Sub-Committee meeting we had the opportunity to correct the impression that the presentation of a work plan by us was self-interested. All of the work proposed is either part of the scope of work which was contemplated on our appointment, or assigned specifically by Council, or recommended for consideration by senior administrative staff.”

In the end the matter was referred back to the Clerk’s office and the legal department who will have to come up with a solution. Its possible an outside consultant will be hired to offer advice. Meanwhile there are a number of provincially-mandated Integrity  issues that have not been implemented.

Councilors repeatedly asserted that contacts are not let without a firm price, but at the same meeting, they received a financial statement from the Hamilton Waterfront Trust that showed a nearly $800,000 legal bill incurred over the Sarcoa lawsuit that did not have an advance cost estimate, and within the last week council learned that the Red Hill Judicial Inquiry likely will run over its original allocation of $7 Million.

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