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Municipal Vermouth

Don McKay shared his poem, Aspidella terranovicaI, inspired by Ediacaran fossils found during the excavation for the convention centre. Don tells us they can be found from St. John’s to Mistaken Point, and on the Bonavista Peninsula. 

The imprints we see in the shale are holdfasts—the part of the organism that grips tightly to the muddy ocean floor, so as not to be swept away. Instead of some tired metaphor, Don compares them to “dimples, pimples, buttons, nipples, navels, eyeballs, or plugs for the sink.” In the poem, he suggests using the genus name in everyday speech: “‘Aspidella, darling,’ meaning, hold on tight. Or, ‘For Christ’s sake, ASPIDELLA!’ meaning, get a grip.” Go, Don!

Checks and Balances

I’ll be honest—I had to listen to this section of the meeting three times before I was successful in not zoning out. I decided to give Mr. Boyd Chislett, Citizen Representative and Chair of the Audit and Accountability Standing Committee, a call to make sense of it. 

In their Terms of Reference (thank you Boyd), it explains that the Committee assists, and makes direct recommendations to Council in fulfilling oversight responsibilities with respect to financial reporting, internal control systems, risk management, legal and regulatory compliance, the external audit process, and the internal audit function.

The first order of business here was to approve the 2021 Audit Plan. Being suggested were a number of program reviews…

  • Fleet – Preventative Maintenance
  • Permitting Process
  • Go Bus
  • Aquatic Safety (within community services – recreation, so like, swimming pool safety)
  • Non-Profit Housing

…follow-up reviews…

  • Mile One Float Discrepancy
  • E-tendering
  • Metrobus Cash Handling
  • Citizen Service Centre Cash Handling
  • Robin Hood Bay Scale House Operations
  • Permit to Operate – Water Distribution

…and administration items.

  • Maintain Whistleblower Hotline
  • Internal Audit Risk Assessment 
  • Office of the City Internal Auditor Policy and Procedural Manual Update

The motion was approved. Honestly, I was really happy to learn about this, and just the fact that it is a thing that happens. It does kinda feel like a ‘check-the-box’ exercise, though, with the level of detail provided. Chairperson Chislett did question, in the March 25 Committee meeting, how audit priorities are determined. Staff (the two Seans—McGrath, Senior Internal Auditor, and Janes, City Internal Auditor) advised that it comes down to discussions with management and their own observations, with a lens on the City’s strategic directions. 

They also said (from the meeting summary), “research is regularly conducted by Internal Audit on the trends, issues, and risks that face other municipalities.” This is hella interesting to me. I’d like to see a report on that. I wonder, does public transit and winter sidewalk clearing come up? 

Chislett suggested that a list or matrix be developed of the areas in need of audit and the criteria for determining their priority. Yes. Quantitative research, come on with it. I’m told that the staff were receptive of this idea, so I hope we’ll see something of this nature in the future!

In response to the City’s experience with “fraudulent activity,” the Deputy City Manager of Financial Management brings word that “the City has received its share of phish emails.” To put this into context, the report states that, “large frauds have recently happened in other Canadian municipalities [Saskatoon, Burlington, and Ottawa] with losses of over $1M being reported. These frauds involved phishing schemes that resulted in fraudulent wire transfers or Electronic Funds Transfer payments.”

Staff have been trained so they can detect and handle phishing schemes, and this training will continue. Opportunities to strengthen controls and improve the accuracy, validity, and completeness of Vendor Master File, Electronic Funds Transfer, and Wire Transfer data have also been identified.

The resulting VMF, EFT, and Wire Transfer Audit Report (and associated action plans put forth) was approved by Council. 

In case you were curious, the City does its banking with the Royal Bank of Canada.

Municipal Brandy

The City’s swimming pools will be getting chlorinated—Council approved expenditures of $49,788.90 (not including HST) per year for the next three years.

Mayor Breen brought forth what he called a “very timely acquisition”—City employees will be provided with rainwear. The Mayor “hopes that it comes with a good warranty.” I couldn’t tell if he was scanning the people in front of him looking for laughs, or looking for someone to make the motion. I’m gonna go with the first. 

If you’re a musician and you’d like to make a hundred bucks, submit a track for the City’s Summer Trail Mix Playlist—50 songs will be selected, and you’ve got until 11:59pm on April 23rd. Thanks, Cllr Hanlon. 

Lastly, Deputy Mayor O’Leary is encouraging you, for Earth Month, to get out there and pick up the litter being revealed by the perpetual fog eating up snowbanks. 

She brought along the tool she uses for doing this (“It’s not a weapon, I promise,” she says), on walks to avoid getting her hands contaminated. She makes the argument that it’s a “practice for personal responsibility,” and, “if we each did in front of our houses, in front of our neighbourhoods [she also later adds commercial businesses], we would see, certainly, a much cleaner city.”

Photo by Graham Kennedy.

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Jess Puddister is The Independent's Municipal Correspondent, writing a weekly column titled, So Moved, St. John's. She's been working with Newfoundland and Labrador municipalities since 2017 mainly on climate change response strategy, eco-asset management planning, and sustainable development advocacy.