GUYSBOROUGH: The warden of the Municipality of the District of Guysborough said he is pleased with the findings of a report from the Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman relating to the municipality’s expenses.

“I am very pleased that the Ombudsman’s Office has released the final Ombudsman’s report on expenses of municipal officials [the former warden, current warden, council Chief Administrative Officer] as requested by the municipality, as the report confirms allegations received from a resident by the Ombudsman’s office were unfounded and there was no misappropriation of municipal funds,” stated Warden Vernon Pitts in a release.

The release also stated council will not comment further on the matter.

The ombudsman’s report is available on-line. Interested parties can find a link at: https://novascotia.ca/ombu/.

“While rooted in Guysborough, the findings of this review highlight certain potential weaknesses more generally in municipal administration,” stated the report. “Those include inadequate legislative separation between matters that municipalities are best suited to address, and those which they are not. They also include inconsistency and lack of clarity in policies devised at the municipal level, resulting in gaps between policy and practice.”

In terms of recommendations for the municipality, the report advised Guysborough to review its current travel and related expense policies and “remove or reduce individual discretionary powers that may neutralize or undermine the policies,” “amend policy to ensure hospitality spending is clearly defined to reflect that such spending be preauthorized, and claims include names and positions of guests, and the business objective of the spending.”

The municipality was also advised to review the use of travel advances to ensure, aside from extraordinary circumstances approved by council, “travel advances to all councillors or staff who received corporate credit cards be prohibited” and that the municipality examine the feasibility of issuing “corporate credit cards to all councillors and employees who incur hotel, transportation or other regular travel expenses.”

The final recommendation was for the “policies related to travel, such as those forbidding advances or personal charges on corporate credit cards, be monitored by a designated administrator such as the Director or Deputy Director of Finance, and sanctions be specified and imposed for breaches” and “consideration be given that such form of monitoring not be undertaken by the same individuals who travel most extensively for the municipality.”

Christine Brennan, with the Office of the Ombudsman, said the office requested a response from the municipality and the Department of Municipal Affairs within 30 days. She said this process is standard and not special to this investigation.

“In closing, the municipality has annual audits completed by Grant Thornton’s chartered accountants, and as indicated in the ombudsman’s report, all annual audits have confirmed that all expenditures were accurately accounted for and both reports commended the municipality for the successful economic development activities related to solid waste, wind energy, industrial parks [Melford, Goldboro, Black Point] etc,” stated the release from Guysborough.

The report also offered recommendations for the Department of Municipal Affairs, one of which recommends the department, as a partner in the Joint Municipal Accountability and Transparency Committee, “ensure that certain specific objectives set by the committee are fully met.”

Municipal Affairs Minister Zach Churchill recently commented on the recommendations of the Joint Municipal Accountability and Transparency Committee which were also released on April 21.

“I want to thank the committee for their due diligence in looking at this important issue,” stated Churchill. “The work of this committee was meant to further support our municipalities in being open and transparent and I’m extremely pleased with their report.”

Recommendations from the committee report include requiring municipalities and villages to post expenses of chief administrative officers and elected officials on-line, requiring municipalities and villages to have a code of conduct, and clarifying the role of the Department of Municipal Affairs in ensuring municipalities comply with the Municipal Government Act.