No shortage of projects for the new AGLG

"We are most interested in hearing from members of the public who have suggestions of areas where the AGLG can be most helpful to British Columbia's local governments by conducting performance audits that may identify ways to improve value for money or highlight best practices."

Ms. Basia Ruta, CA Auditor General for Local Government, Surrey, B.C.

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Dear Ms. Ruta:

Congratulations on your appointment as British Columbia's first ever auditor general for local government.

We have waited a long time for this day and look forward to reading your reports, as we do those of B.C. Auditor General John Doyle.

We appreciate your offer to consider our suggestions about your work and understand that your mandate is to conduct performance audits to evaluate whether councils are providing good "stewardship of public assets" and "achieving value for money in their operations."

In that vein, I offer my own thoughts for your consideration.

A review of the information on your website notes that your first milestone will be the release of what will become an annual service plan - the first expected sometime in April.

Bearing that in mind, I hope that over the next few weeks you will have time to review the Community Charter/Local Government Act - the foundation upon which our local government structure is built.

Recent experience here on the North Shore suggests there is an urgent need for a clarification and strengthening of the legislation that covers conflict of interest and the public hearing process.

In that regard, if you should schedule a review of the City and District of North Vancouver, I urge you to consider the two municipalities concurrently because, as residents support mirrored councils and staffs for a combined population of only 131,000, many of them want to see a facilitated dialogue on the pros and cons of amalgamation - no matter what some politicians would prefer.

I agree and suggest that a politician who denies citizens that opportunity is in a direct conflict of interest.

My next suggestion also touches on democratic process.

If British Columbians are to play a meaningful role in determining their local destiny, the act must be returned to its pre-charter status with respect to referendums.

The charter's "alternative approval process" is unwieldy and nothing more than negative-billing: "Council plans to do such-and-such unless enough of you read this advertisement and tell us not to."

And now, Ms. Ruta, we come to a long-standing North Shore bug-a-boo: our regional transportation authority.

If you compare the Aug. 9, 2001 report and recommendations on TransLink by former provincial auditor-general Wayne Strelioff to the November-December 2012 reports of TransLink Commissioner Martin Crilly and the Efficiency Review by North Vancouver's Shirocca Consulting, I believe you will find significant room for improvement with respect to value for money. Commissioner Crilly notified me on Sunday that two further reports by Shirocca are due to appear on his website on Feb. 1.

Taxpayers elsewhere in B.C. might believe another review by you would focus too much on the 22 Lower Mainland municipalities.

If so, they would do themselves an injustice because, as provincial and federal taxpayers they too are funding the bottomless pit that is TransLink, its gold-plated SkyTrain projects and its unwieldy, costly governance structure.

In particular, when it comes to "achieving value for money," it would be a relief for your office to settle once and for all the TransLink-manipulated comparative cost debate over SkyTrain versus Light Rail Transit technology.

If you were to do that - without political interference - I have no doubt you could save taxpayers billions of dollars in capital and debt-servicing costs.

In general terms, council budgets increasingly suffer from the downloading of what were previously provincial responsibilities - with insufficient funding to support the services.

Although that applies throughout the province, the problem is exacerbated for North Shore residents who are disproportionately burdened by high property-tax assessments and by Metro Vancouver regional decisions over which they have no direct control.

No control because the charter does not require members of council to poll the majority opinion of their colleagues before they vote at the regional committee level.

At regional tables it is a case of voting one man's - or woman's - opinion.

So the final item I would like to see reviewed - before the 2014 municipal election - would cover the pros and cons of allowing citizens to elect the board of the Greater Vancouver Regional District.

Never again do I want to hear that a member of council must "take off his/her North Shore council hat, when sitting at a regional table" as one councillor said.

"No taxation without representation" is such an important concept that, earlier this month at the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the citizens of Washington, DC reignited the fight that began in England in the 1700s. Why do we still tolerate it at the regional level in B.C.?

So thank you for the invitation Ms. Ruta; I hope you will receive suggestions from many other British Columbians.

You have my sincere best wishes as you carry out your work in this political viper's nest of a province.

Footnote: Ms. Basia Ruta began her five-year fixed term on Jan. 15, 2013.

Nominated by an appointed five-person Audit Council, Ruta comes from Ontario with an impressive resume that includes more than 10 years with the auditor general of Canada.

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