Skakun won’t get requested information
Skulduggery. Shenanigans. Nefarious.
“These things are disgusting and ridiculous,” Mayor Shari Green said during Monday’s council meeting, repeating some of the words she found online referring to what people are alleging about financial transactions at city hall after Coun. Brian Skakun filed a notice of motion when he wasn’t provided with some specific financial information he requested.
Green said acting city manager Kathleen Soltis explained the amount of staff time it would take to gather the information Skakun requested. Skakun also approached the mayor and told her he’d been unable to obtain the information.
Since it isn’t a duty required by staff, Green suggested a notice of motion, which is the process for airing such issues. However, because there is usually around two weeks between the time the notice of motion is filed and discussed, many residents felt the denial of the request suggested there was something to hide at city hall, leaving the institution brewing under a cloud of suspicion.
Coun. Cameron Stolz, asked if Skakun made the request because he feared there had been misappropriation of funds at city hall.
“That is absurd,” Skakun said. “In my opinion that had nothing to do with it.”
He said, instead, it had to do with clarifying information asked about.
“The reason for the question is this is the very question getting asked in the community,” Stolz said.
Stolz, who heads the finance and audit committee, went on to explain some of the processes in place to govern financial transactions at the city. The bylaws he expounded on were ones reviewed in 2010 by a committee that sat for over 20 months, one both he and Skakun worked on.
He discussed how authority is delegated and how checks and balances were put in place to ensure transparent governance.
Stolz said the staff at the city are trustworthy competent professionals.
Soltis, when asked, explained the city processes between 13,000 and 15,000 invoices a year. Any expenditure or accumulation of expenditures to one supplier that amounts to $25,000 or more is reported to the appropriate ministry and on the city’s website.
The city is audited once a year, currently by Deloitte and Touche. Soltis also explained what it means, time-wise, to a city employee to answer just one of the requests made by Skakun.
One request, a look at what the city spent its money on when purchasing items from #188 Holdings, would mean tracking down 43 invoices for 2012. At about 10 minutes per invoice, that means about seven hours or more spent tracking down the information.
Many councillors pointed out staff time is precious, with priorities set for how that time is spent set by council.
Coun. Dave Wilbur said the city is at an elite level of process, earning a gold for the performance.
“They have been judged to be among the very best in local government,” he said.
Coun. Frank Everitt expressed his displeasure over the notice of motion process.
“What I find troublesome is this Mickey Mouse notice of motion,” he said, adding it had been in the community for two weeks, creating and fuelling suspicions. “I categorically do not believe there is any hanky-panky going on.”
Coun. Albert Koehler said a lot of what happened did so because of perception, however he added councillors do need to access information.
“There should be a process in place to obtain information on a transaction if needed,” he said.
Coun. Garth Frizzell likened the issue to a mechanic showing him a worn part on the car. It wasn’t to prove honesty, but to involve Frizzell more in the process, and the outcome taught him more about his driving habits.
He added more open government principles are being developed.
“The public pays for this data, and it’s theirs,” he said, adding publishing government documents on the Internet is fairly cheap.
Coun. Lyn Hall said that a process for getting information like that which Skakun requested in a better way should be looked into, suggested a ‘brown bag’ meeting where councillors looked for inexpensive solutions.
A vote on the requests for information Skakun made in his notice of motion lost when the question was called. His last request, that administration provide information to individual councillors if requested by them, was dropped.
Most councillors said that, though the information Skakun asked for required an onerous amount of time to fulfill by staff, voting against a blanket statement like that would leave it open for any councillor to be refused an answer by staff.
Skakun agreed and dropped the motion.