During our recent visit with some younger residents we learned that most of them wanted to sit in the council seats. When asked why, they said it was because then they could vote. None wanted to be staff because they would not be able to decide what happens. What an interesting view on things from such young minds. Even at a young age the desire to accept responsibility and serve the community runs strong. Avoiding responsibility is a learned reaction. As a society we need to do all we can to foster our young people’s desire to help each other.
All too often local elected officials lose sight of their responsibilities. They are led down the path of least resistance and decide many of their governance responsibilities and fiscal management plans based solely on the recommendations of staff. Perhaps they forget that it is the elected council that is held to task if questionable or poor decisions are made.
Recently the district learned that we had to find another accounting firm to provide audit services. During the discussion it was suggested that council seek an audit covering more than what has been done in the past. Bear in mind here that I am not saying the previous audits were done wrong. The request was that we hire a firm that can perform some other audit functions as well as the minimal requirement of an annual financial audit.
A number of chartered accounting firms do a review of management practices in addition to the financial audit. Going forward it is my suggestion, and some members of council agree , that the independent auditor not only cast an opinion of the municipal financial statements but that the auditor goes through a very detailed examination of operations. By doing this the auditor can possibly offer council many points of advice to improve our procedures and policies.
Recently small changes have been made here at the district in an effort to improve transparency and accountability to our residents. Changes such as the payment of accounts are now being reviewed by a member of council and not just staff. Cheques are then posted online so the public can view them.
Going forward council needs to take an active role in such things as the award of all district contracts. It is incorrect that some contracts are of an annual operational matter to be dealt with by staff with no input from council. Big or small, all bidding opportunities should be reviewed by council each time they need to be awarded. Council is responsible for achieving value for money in operational procurement. The only way council can attain due diligence in these matters is to remain properly engaged. The shift of this fiscal responsibility onto to staff can lead to a multitude of problems. Current policies and procedures need to be changed.
All change is difficult and I expect that the first reaction to the need for an accounting of our policies, procedures and practices will be one of resistance.
We need to take stock of what has happened. Some say that doing this is a waste of time and money. I wonder though how this apparent unwillingness to use an audit to improve how the business of the district is done will be perceived by the public. It is my opinion, should council not seek the best possible way to spend tax dollars, that the public’s reaction would be definitely negative, especially if local taxes were to rise above what they are now.
The summary of all this is that we as council need to take a long hard look at how we spend your money. We may well find everything is good, and we can go on as we have done in the past. My personal opinion is that we need to make some changes.
It is absurd old style thinking that we need to impose tax increases year over year. It is council’s responsibility to set the budget and the policies that drive spending.
This must not be left in the hands of staff. Getting the absolute best possible value for each and every tax dollar spent should and will be the district mandate.