Posted November 21, 2013
On Tuesday, November 19, the audit committee of city council, held a meeting in the council chambers at city hall. The purpose was to receive and discuss the Internal Auditor’s report on employee attendance and overtime costs.
Here are some impressions of this exercise.
The chairman of the committee, Coun. Cam Guthrie could barely be seen from the spectator’s gallery because the lights over the council table were not tuned on. Was this part of the city’s green strategy to save power? From the front row of the gallery, the committee members, barely visible, addressed the issues in an abstract way like voices from space. Often it was difficult to know who was speaking because you couldn’t see them sitting in the shadows.
Often some members and staff spoke in “munispeak” the language of the bureaucrats that is mostly unintelligible, convoluted and loaded with insider acronyms. The mayor particularly uses this communication method that may be okay in the academic world but is condescending to we lesser mortals who pay the bills.
Why do they hold the meeting at 3:30 in the afternoon? It’s not a convenient time for most citizens to attend because they have to work. Dare I suggest that’s the very reason that time is chosen? They don’t want to encourage public comment or questions of this stinging report on staff mismanagement. Besides the gallery was occupied mostly by staff and unions members who never asked a question.. In less polite circles, the report would be called an indictment of operations at 1 Carden Street.
There was one voice that brought clarity to the waves of “munispeak”. Coun. Gloria Kovach asked the right questions and made the right motions to bring a measure of sanity to the meeting. She asked Executive Director of Human Resources and Corporate, Mark Amorosi, about the total number of people employed by the city, not the Full-time Equivalent (FTE) number, but the total who are drawing a paycheck. These would include full-time employees, full-time/part-time employees, part-time employees, casual employees and contract employees.
The mayor jumped in and said that information is available in the Human Resources annual report and was readily available. Trouble is, and Coun. Kovach was aware, that report usually arrives in April, four months after the year-end close. By that time there could be many changes to the numbers, plus or minus. Coun. Kovach felt that the audit committee should receive a quarterly employee status report.
The mayor questioned if this was a responsibility of the audit committee or the governance committee of which she is chair.
Underlying all this is the city’s method of reporting staff numbers. The term “FTE” is used in its official reports. It is meaningless, deceptive and deflects attention from the total number of people employed regardless of their status.
Chief Administration Officer, Ann Pappert, gave a lengthy explanation of how senior management was addressing the problem outlined by the internal auditor, Loretta Alonzo, in her report on attendance and overtime.
In her remarks, the CAO said that management has been working on the problem for several months. Although Ms. Alonzo only revealed her findings to senior staff recently. An action plan is being developed by the executive team and will be reviewed by Derrick Thomson, the recently hired Executive Director of Community and Social Services. The CAO said this would provide a new and fresh overview of the action plan to curb overtime costs and improve attendance.
Mr. Thomson must wonder what he has got himself in for.
For two hours the critical issue of the staffing of Guelph Transit was never brought up. Later in the meeting Derek McCaughan, Executive Director of Operations, Transit and Emergency Services, said a new “cohort” of drivers was being trained to cover those regular drivers who book off for whatever reason. So, to solve the overtime problem, the city hires more bus drivers. Did the Amalgamated Transit Union’s fiery rejection to the auditor’s report tilt the management to take this step?
Again, it does not address the underlying problem of staff attendance. The major issue underlined by the internal audit. Nor does it solve the obvious management problem of failing to control overtime in the Transit department.
Transit provided the most glaring example of runaway overtime costs and attendance issues reported in the Internal Auditor’s report. Yet the committee glossed it over despite the charge that there was “misappropriation” of city funds.
This is the way your city is managed. By resorting to “munispeak” the management lays a thick layer of fog over this vital and important issue, and many more. It is a form of denial but not necessarily denial if you can bring yourself to believe them.
This is the same group of senior managers that the CAO is calling on to fix the problem and remove it from public scrutiny.
This is like a bad seed that has multiplied in the past seven years creating a culture of incompetence in city hall, particularly among the top managers. They feel omnipotent and above being responsible to the taxpayers.
It is another reason for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to conduct an audit of the city finances and operations.
This city administration is one sick puppy.