Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority chair Sandy Annunziata has assured the public the organization is following on a January motion to initiate a third-party independent audit of its operations.
“This is truly an independent, third-party, arms-length (audit),” said Annunziata, during the commission’s Feb. 15. board meeting. “We are fulfilling the spirit, intent and language of the motion.”
At the authority’s first board meeting of 2017 in January, members approved a motion, introduced by Lincoln Coun. Bill Hodgson, to conduct a third-party review of the organization’s operations.
The motion also contained various amendments, including a request to the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario to conduct an audit of the authority, identifying the review’s time period from 2011 to 2016 and establishing a cost of about $150,000 for the review.
The commission’s acting chief administrative officer Peter Graham told members of the board that he met Feb. 14 with representatives of Hamilton and the Niagara Region who will assist in creating procurement guidelines that will help the authority issue a tender seeking a company to conduct the audit.
Haldimand-Norfolk declined to take part in the process.
Graham said once the group establishes the procurement guidelines, the report will be presented to the board for review. He emphasized that to make the entire process transparent, there will be no board members involved in crafting the guidelines.
He said one of the difficult aspects of creating the procurement rules will be to identify how in-depth the process will be.
Graham was unsure how long it will take to present a report on the procurement process to the board but he was not confident it would be ready by the March meeting.
“We want to make sure everything is above board in terms of an objective review,” said Graham.
He acknowledged this is the first time he has overseen such a process and wants to make sure everything is done according to set guidelines.
“This is not a road I’ve gone down before,” said Graham. “This is new.”
He promised board members the criteria for hiring an independent auditor will be “very robust.”
“There are still some concerns that exist with the trust level (among the public),” he said. “It has to be arms-length. We want to make sure we do it right.”
Annunziata said he discussed the commission’s audit with Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk a few days ago. He characterized the exchange with Lysyk as “extremely friendly” and “extremely collegial.”
There were about 50 people attending the board meeting, including Ed Smith, a St. Catharines resident who released a 45-page report on the commission that criticized the authority on how it has hired people and conducted past businesses. He is now the subject of a defamation legal action by the authority.