As city council prepares to debate whether it's right for the civic government watchdog to report to two different masters, both the acting city auditor and the provincial auditor-general say it doesn't matter.

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This article was published 24/11/2009 (4563 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As city council prepares to debate whether it's right for the civic government watchdog to report to two different masters, both the acting city auditor and the provincial auditor-general say it doesn't matter.

This morning, council will decide whether to reverse one aspect of Winnipeg's 2008 reorganization and have the city auditor report only to politicians, instead of to council as well as to the chief administrative officer.

Daniel McIntyre Coun. Harvey Smith launched the motion last month after he asked the acting city auditor to examine CAO Glen Laubenstein's decision to spend almost $190,000 on a consultant in a series of sole-sourced contracts.

The opposition councillor mused the city auditor's office might not be independent enough in the wake of the 2008 reorganization. And he has some support among members of council's executive policy committee.

"The auditor is aligned with the CAO's way of thinking. I would prefer the auditor aligned with council's way of thinking," said St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel, Winnipeg's deputy mayor.

But acting city auditor Brian Whiteside and provincial auditor general Carol Bellringer say it doesn't matter whether Winnipeg's auditor reports to the CAO, as provincial legislation clearly protects the city auditor's independence, regardless of any changes made by city council.

In separate interviews, both Whiteside and Bellringer said The City of Winnipeg Charter Act - the legal framework for the city - insists that council has the power to hire and fire the auditor and recommend areas to investigate. A secondary reporting relationship to the CAO can not hamper the auditor's independence, they said.

"This is a statutory position. The act takes precedence in terms of defining any reporting relationship," Whiteside said. "There's a perception if you report to the administration, you have two masters, but our traditional audit role hasn't changed at all."

Any city auditor who felt the CAO was trying to exert undue influence could simply ignore the official, added Bellringer, who served as a city auditor in the 1990s.

"If something bothered me, I would just go to council," she said.

Whiteside said his department has not made any changes to the way it decides what to audit since council approved Winnipeg's reorganization in September 2008.

"It absolutely has no impact on that. We haven't changed our approach to doing work here," he said. "Our audit plan still goes through (council's) audit committee."

In an apparent coincidence, council is poised to appoint Whiteside as city auditor today, ending an 11-month period as acting city auditor. But the debate about his reporting relationship may have enough support on council to pass.

Swandel said he may also make an amendment to place another position back under council control. Along with the city auditor, the city clerk began reporting to the CAO in September 2008.

Swandel said both statutory officers should report solely to council. Mayor Sam Katz has said he opposes making changes to the reporting relationships.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Cops, auditors & sewers

SIGNIFICANT issues on today's city council agenda:

City auditor: Coun. Harvey Smith has proposed a motion to return the city auditor to strictly council oversight, instead of having him report to council as well as the chief administrative officer.

Water-and-sewer rates: Council will debate a plan to raise water-and-sewer rates by 2.7 per cent in 2010, which translates into a $21.22 annual increase for the average household over 2009.

Police headquarters: A plan to purchase the Canada Post building for $30 million and then spend $105 million converting it into a "mega-Public Safety Building" will likely receive unanimous support.

Henderson Library: Council is slated to approve a plan to keep Winnipeg's second-busiest library in a North Kildonan strip mall until 2029.

Police advisory board: Mayor Sam Katz's 2007 State of the City promise will be dissolved to make way for a meatier police commission following today's vote.