A city council committee comprised of Colleen Hardwick, Pete Fry, Sarah Kirby-Yung, Rebecca Bligh and Michael Wiebe unanimously approved Mike Macdonell’s request Nov. 26 without much debate.
The committee’s recommendation will now go before the entire 11-member council Wednesday as it works to finalize the overall 2022 budget for the city by Dec. 7, with the aim of keeping a property tax hike at five per cent or less.
“It is going to be a cost that we're going to have to bring on,” Wiebe said during the meeting.
“So I will be happily supporting this and be very interested to hear the conversations that will happen at council. This will be a very important dialogue, recognizing the amount of money [requested] and our current budget constraints.”
Approximately $1.3 million of the $1.6 million request will pay for staff, with Macdonell planning to hire eight people in the new year. Senior staff will be in place by February while operational and support roles are expected to be filled in March and April.
The remainder of the budget will pay for contracted services ($235,000), support costs ($30,350) and training ($12,000). The city has yet to release Macdonell’s salary, despite requests from VI.A.
Macdonell was appointed in August as the city’s first-ever independent auditor general. His first day on the job was in September and he is working on an audit plan to go before council before the end of January.
His office’s role is to investigate the city’s spending and determine whether it provides value for dollars spent — something he discussed in drafting his own $1.6 million budget, which he described as “transitional” for 2022, with another $252,000 anticipated for 2023.
Macdonell noted he works out of city hall’s west annex instead of renting a separate office. He has also not asked for a separate email server or secure file storage server. Had he not done this, he said, his “full strength” budget request in 2023 would have been closer to $2.1 million, instead of $1.8 million.
Hardwick raised concerns over Macdonell’s decision to use the city’s servers.
“I wanted to hear more about the IT configuration, since we do live in an era of dirty tricks,” she asked Macdonell. “Could you elaborate on that a little bit more — why are you not being more protective?”
Macdonell said the city is moving away from hardened infrastructure or file storage and is moving towards a cloud-based system. He said files stored in the cloud will only be accessible to certain people within his office.
“It's cost effective, it's in compliance with privacy legislation and the cloud storage is entirely within Canada,” he said. “It just makes sense in this modern era that [information] can be accessed from wherever staff happen to be working.”
Macdonell acknowledged such a move was “a bit of a leap of good faith” and that he could have adopted more secure file storage by adding a hardened file or server right in his office.
“But I had to look at the costs and the potential risks,” he said. “I think the risk of inappropriate access can be mitigated through, quite frankly, a bit of audit procedures that I'm more than happy to have my staff undertake.”
'No interference whatsoever'
Macdonell, a chartered accountant and certified fraud examiner, spent 23 years in the provincial office of the auditor general. He also worked on contract for the office of the Auditor General for Local Government, which permanently closed in March.
It’s not clear how many audits his office will complete next year, with some councillors suggesting it could be one or two before the October 2022 election. But Macdonell made it clear in an August interview with Glacier Media that he will call the shots on what gets examined.
“I decide — me and me alone,” he said.
“Every audit will result in a public report. I will report what I find. And the auditor general recruitment committee [of councillors] has made it entirely clear that that's their expectation — that they want to hear what I have to say as an independent auditor, and that there will be no interference whatsoever.”