Audit committee survives council vote

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Heron says meetings to date have been 'close to a waste of time'

St. Albert’s internal audit steering committee will live to meet another day despite two of its members voting for its demise.

A vote to rescind the committee’s bylaw narrowly failed 3-4 Monday, with Coun. Natalie Joly and Mayor Cathy Heron – two of the three council members who sit on that committee – voting to rescind along with Coun. Wes Brodhead.

The committee began meeting in March and is scheduled to meet Wednesday evening to look over a draft tender for an internal auditor to provide oversight of city finances and operations with the hope of saving the city money.

Joly brought forward the motion to rescind after the committee’s second meeting in May, suggesting council re-allocate $100,000 from the committee’s budget for third-party audits of the city’s procurement practises and corporate risk management. The remaining $262,000 would go toward assessing the city’s corporate business processes and fund any recommendations coming out of the assessment.

On Monday, Coun. Sheena Hughes described that motion as “almost hijacking” the committee’s task. She said directing an audit of procurement practises and corporate risk management is a decision the committee could make. Hughes is the third member of council who sits on the committee with Heron and Joly, along with two St. Albert citizens.

“We have this committee that can make the decision to move forward on this, but we’re not giving the committee the opportunity to do so,” Hughes said, noting the committee has only met twice so far.

“What I’d like to see is actually just give the committee a chance to do what it needs to do before we evaluate it – and I’m confident we could actually get some value out of this.”

Council also heard from resident Mike Killick at the beginning of the meeting, who described having an auditor as a “win, win, win.”

“I would encourage council not to give up on the (internal) auditor committee before it is even truly begun,” he said.

Joly said Monday she has been a strong supporter for years of having an internal audit function at the city but also wanted to be pragmatic about how that function is funded.

She said it became clear at the committee’s meeting that they had “nowhere to start,” which would mean the starting point would be very broad.

“We wouldn’t see any results of a change within that process,” Joly said.

“I’d like to see our money spent wisely and I want to see results rather than just having the appearance (that) we want to do something.”

Joly also said having sitting council members on the committee “firmly puts council in the role of administrative directors, and that’s not where we want to be.”

“We really should not be in the weeds,” she said.

Heron described her approach to the internal auditor as “cautious yet open-minded” but said there is a lack of direction for the committee.

“The two meetings we have had … I can tell you have been, I hate to use the word ‘waste of time’ but close to a waste of time,” she said.

“We sit in the first meeting, we look around the room and say, ‘Where are we going to send an auditor to look?’ Blank stares,” Heron said.

Heron said the committee’s struggles might be tied to what she sees as more trust between the sitting council and city staff, and pointed to the fact that city manager Kevin Scoble identified procurement practises and corporate risk management as two problems.

“That, to me, is significant,” she said.

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April Hudson