May 22, 2015
The Toronto Star
Toronto’s police, libraries and public health, funded by city taxpayers to the tune of $1.6 billion this year, should not be able to avoid the auditor-general’s microscope, city councillors said Friday.
Members of the audit committee want the Ontario government to amend the City of Toronto Act to put the agencies under the auditor-general’s purview, just like the TTC and other city-funded bodies, and in the meantime for those agencies to voluntarily submit to audits.
The vote came after Beverly Romeo-Beehler told them that, since becoming auditor-general in December, she asked the chairs of the boards overseeing police libraries and Toronto Public Health to let her office look at their operations to identify “risk” areas that might need auditing.
She would then have to wait for an invitation to investigate, unlike with city departments and other agencies where she is free to launch spending probes. She has “not heard back” from the police board while the other two are “considering” the request, Romeo-Beehler said.
“Shining a light is always good so people can make the changes they need to make,” she said. “I can say that historically, based on evidence, we’ve added value and I expect that would be the case,” with police, libraries and health.
Councillor Josh Matlow said it drives him “absolutely mad” that council approves spending for those agencies — $1.157 billion for police alone — but they have not asked Romeo-Beehler to ensure that spending is prudent.
He singled out police paid duty. Last year, the Star noted that, three years after city council passed motions designed to reign in spending on the program that sees off-duty officers earn a minimum $65 an hour guarding construction sites and sports and community events, the amount of paid duty earned by officers had soared to $26.1 million.
Councillor Frances Nunziata, an audit board member who used to be on the police services board, suggested it’s the police service itself, not its civilian oversight body, that has resisted paid duty reforms.
“Maybe every year when (police, libraries and health) ask council to approve their budget we should resist, just like they’re resisting us,” Nunziata said. “It just makes me angry that they’re not responding.”
Councillor Stephen Holyday voted to ask full council to lobby Queen’s Park for the change, but noted those agencies have internal auditors so the city has to avoid “checking the checker that checks the checker.”
Police services board chair Alok Mukherjee said in an interview he was “taken aback” by Romeo-Beehler’s comments because he has told her he is interested in a review to suggest possible audit targets.
But he needs to find time to sit down with new Police Chief Mark Saunders to “work out the details,” Mukherjee said, noting he wants to overhaul paid duty.
Asked about putting police permanently under auditor general purview, he said such a change would have to be decided by his full board.
Jennifer Veenboer of Toronto Public Health noted that, because many of her board’s services are partly or full provincially funded, the agency is subject to auditing by Ontario’s auditor general.
“We have not had an opportunity to review the decisions made earlier today,” by the audit committee,” she said in an email. “However, we will review (it) in conjunction with” Romeo-Beehler request.
The library board will, at its June 21 meeting, consider Romeo-Beehler’s request to be allowed to look for audit targets, a spokeswoman said.
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