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City officials are probing evidence of fraud in excess of $1 million.

Merulla calls for accountability watchdog

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

Hamilton councillor Sam Merulla wants the city to create an accountability watchdog office that would have the power to conduct investigations on employees’ and contractors’ work.

“We need to take action to ensure public accountability,” he said.

Merulla, who has applauded the city-initiated investigation that has eventually led to the firing of 29 public works employees and two 30-day suspensions without pay for neglect of duty, will introduce his notice of motion at the Feb. 6 government issues committee meeting. The city is continuing its investigation by reviewing the duties of the fired employees’ supervisors.

The Ward 4 councillor says the new accountability office can be staffed with available city employees and there is not expected to be any extra costs to taxpayers.

“There will be no new hires,” he said. “There will be no new level of bureaucracy.”

Merulla wants the office established as soon as possible, preferably this year.Hamilton has a $1.5- billion budget and more than 7,000 employees that need to be monitored, he said.

“I haven’t seen another municipality do this,” said Merulla. “We would be the first.”

Since the revelation that some public works employees were found to have neglected their duties, councillors have been receiving complaints from the public about other alleged incidents involving city workers.

“This is based upon what council has experienced over the last few weeks. We are getting requests daily for investigations,” said Merulla. “(The office) would centralize all the information and then take action.”

Merulla envisions the public accountability officer as being full-time, coordinating the public’s requests for review, conduct the investigations and to “seek out efficiencies and assess productivity of all city department staff and contractors.” It is unknown how much legal power the office would have.

Over the last few years, the city over the last few years has added an internal auditor, an integrity commissioner and a council subcommittee is reviewing whether to recommend establishing a lobbyist registry. Ward 8 councillor Terry Whitehead has also called on the city to create an ombudsman.

Merulla said a public accountability officer would have different duties and responsibilities than its internal auditor, which reviews programs to determine their efficiency, and value form money effectiveness.

“We need to be pro-active, and not reactive all the time,” said Merulla.

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