City turns up nose at auditor

Provincial government’s move to monitor municipal spending called an obstacle to local authority

No. The message from the tall foreheads in the civic sandbox downtown to the provincial powers up in Edmonton is clear.

No. You don’t have to look at how we spend our money. We already keep an eye on things. Trust us.

Now, don’t start laughing. These folks at the city are serious.

What bothers them is an idea on target to become law this fall.

The province wants to set up a financial watchdog to do random audits on the books of local governments and make recommendations if something doesn’t pass the smell test. This municipal auditor general would also give the provincial government the head’s up if the locals aren’t getting their act together.

In other words, there would be bark and bite.

The position would be funded by the Alberta government.

Here, in coffee shops and around the water coolers, this is a big story because certain dolts on this city council keep cooking up antics too over the top for a stage at the Just For Laughs festival.

Your scribbler has been pushing this brainwave for a very long time and, every time it comes to mind, I think of it as Druh’s Law, after Ald. Druh Farrell.

Every time she and her circle on council dream up some other walk through la-la land it provides more ammo to make this position a reality.

City bigwigs are not amused. You don’t say.

The city’s stance on the new watchdog has been sent to a committee of provincial politicians giving the proposal the final once-over Sept. 10. The city doesn’t want it.

"We support mechanisms for greater accountability, transparency and confidence in the public trust," figure the city higher-ups.

A provincially appointed watchdog over local government spending is "not the appropriate mechanism" and "duplicates the functions already in place at the city of Calgary through the city auditor."

A municipal auditor general, says the city, "adds little value."

Tell me if anything here isn’t exactly what you thought they would say.

Let us continue. The province’s action would not be an "effective stewardship of taxpayer resources."

Ah, effective stewardship of taxpayer resources. Now, that’s something the city administration are experts at providing. Not.

Now we come to the spot where the rubber hits the road.

The city says the province’s move "limits local authority by reducing council’s ability to effectively govern the municipality" and those under the legislature Dome in Edmonton "must recognize council unambiguously is the elected body responsible for governing the municipality."

Yes, it’s all about who has the power, baby.

Calgary’s local government is not alone. Other local politicians across Alberta have their noses out of joint. Stow that away in your Not A Surprise file.

As for Bronco, he says whatever the province does is "fine with me" providing he doesn’t have to pay for it.

He does think the new position doesn’t do anything.

Art Johnston is a Calgary Tory MLA and the sponsor of the law to establish the municipal auditor general.

Art says he’s encouraged by the responses, though obviously not Calgary’s predictable opposition.

"There are a lot of people saying, ‘Way to go, it’s long overdue,’ " says Art, who doesn’t agree this is a power grab.

"That’s never been a part of this change. With taxpayer dollars you have to be accountable. You can confuse the issue if you want but it’s real simple. I think it’s going to go forward."

Hint: Premier Ed wants it.

By the way, can the new auditor investigate how we went from no footbridge to Calatrava red? Please, pretty please.

Tracy McTaggart is the city auditor. Tracy says the city’s number crunching is "more comprehensive" than what the province is setting out to do. Tracy presents her findings to a committee of aldermen who meet in public and she will present to the whole city council in the spring.

No one doubts the city auditor’s competence but this horse is out of the barn.

Citizens have seen how, in Ottawa, something a financial watchdog dug up brought down a government. We’re talking Sheila Fraser and the sponsorship scandal.

At the provincial level, Fred (Get It) Dunn has gathered up more dirt than a Swiffer on steroids.

Tracy does make one very important point. Listen carefully now and mark your calendar. Oct. 18, 2010.

"An auditor can’t be the solution to every problem," she says.

"If council is not doing what the people want them to do, then they should vote in people they think will do what needs to be done."

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