As previously reported, a new voter engagement group called GrassRoots Guelph has opened up shop here in the Royal City and they are pursuing a course that assumes there's some fishy accounting at City Hall. In a press release sent out last week, GRG says that they've followed up a petition they sent in to Ontario's Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) by having a meeting with ministry representatives, but was it a simple acknowledgement of the petition, or is, as GRG puts it, the beginning of an investigation.
Not that we're purposefully trying to doubt the veracity of GRG's press release, but they have jumped the gun before. On October 30, GRG spokesperson Gerry Barker sent out the following tweet:
GrassRoots Guelph citizens petition will be investigated by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing
— Gerry Barker (@guelphspeaks) October 30, 2013
That was maybe a poor choice of words. Perhaps, given what's said in the below press release, Barker meant that the ministry was going to investigate and confirm that the petition met their qualifications for consideration, but how it reads is that the ministry was going to investigate the allegations in the petition, which requests a full, independent audit of the city's finances. The Guelph Mercury's Chris Herhalt asked MMAH spokesperson May Nazar in October about whether or not an investigation is underway, and she said, "Ministry staff is planning to meet with the lead petitioner and City officials to learn more about their concerns," adding, "A decision about an audit has not been made."
But GRG still seems to be selling the idea that investigation has begun, even though the language in their own press release specifically says that they merely verified the petition and still, the press release begins with the line that GRG met with ministry officials for two hours as MMAH "began its investigations" into city finances. GRG is also using the recent auditor's report about overtime expenses to further justify the need for the a full-scale audit, but will all that convince MMAH to step in to look at Guelph's books? I guess we'll see.
Here's the full GRG press release:
Guelph, November 24, 2013 – Members of GrassRoots Guelph, a non-profit, non-partisan citizens’ organization, met with representatives of the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) for two hours today as the Ministry began its investigations into the City of Guelph’s finances and operations.
GrassRoots Guelph requested that the province conduct an in-depth audit of the City of Guelph’s finances and operations on October 1, 2013. The organization submitted a 4-page petition to Queen’s Park that was signed by 162 Guelph ratepayers and detailed questionable financial and capital project management by city administration over the past six years.
During today’s meeting, the MMAH representatives “acknowledged the accuracy” of the numbers included in the 4-page petition. As well, GRG presented six more fiscal concerns that have come to light since their petition was submitted to Queen’s Park.
Among the six new items is a multi-million dollar staff overtime expense in 2013 documented by the city’s internal auditor, Loretta Alonzo, in a report dated October 31, 2013. By revealing that Guelph could save $3 million annually by administering overtime differently, this report helps to validate GRG’s previous concerns and provides more evidence that a complete forensic audit of the City of Guelph’s finances and operations is warranted.
The three members of GrassRoots Guelph who were at today’s meeting were Gerry Barker, Milton Burns and Paulette Padanyi. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing was represented by Roger Moyer and Tim Ryall of the Municipal Services Office – Western branch. Their investigation may include more meetings with City officials and with GRG over the next few weeks.