Fired B.C. municipal auditor may not get severance; will seek judicial review

BY LINDSAY KINES, TIMES COLONIST MARCH 23, 2015The B.C. government has fired embattled municipal auditor Basia Ruta, saying her attempts to obstruct a review of her office created an “intolerable situation.” Community Minister Coralee Oakes told reporters today that Ruta will not receive severance because the oversight audit council determined “that there is cause.” Oakes said Ruta’s attempts to obstruct a review of her office by former deputy minister Chris Trumpy compounded “the unstable work environment and lack of performance from that office.” “I believe removing the auditor general is necessary to ensure the proper functioning of the office,” Oakes said. Ruta said that she will be seeking a judicial review of the decision to fire her.

“The manner of removing me from office occurred without adherence to basic principles of procedural fairness,” she said in a prepared statement released by her lawyer. Ruta said she was fired after asking that any review preserve her office’s independence and comply with the legislation. I understand the minister has told the media that I obstructed a review of the office from taking place,” she said. “Insisting on compliance with the act is not obstruction. I proposed two
alternatives to allow a review of the office to take place, including calling upon the auditor general for British Columbia. “Neither the minister nor the audit council chose to work collaboratively in a manner that preserved the independence of the office or in a manner that complied with the act.” Ruta said the legislation does not allow the audit council to appoint a third party to review her office or for her to disclose records to a third party. “The proposed review would have required me to breach the statute,” she said.

Ruta, who has been under fire for missing deadlines and failing to deliver audits, also has questioned Trumpy’s independence, called the review of her office “unlawful” and accussed Oakes of political interference. The dispute stems from concerns about Ruta’s productivity. NDP critic Selina Robinson raised questions in the legislature three weeks ago about why Ruta had delivered just one audit since 2013 after promising 18 in her first year. The office has an annual budget of $2.6 million. The NDP also obtained a leaked report detailing staff frustrations with waste, shifting priorities and unclear directions in Ruta’s office. Oakes said the government and the audit council gave Ruta every opportunity to resolve the issue, but her refusal to agree to the Trumpy review created an “impasse.” Oakes said that, under the Auditor General for Local Government Act, she asked the audit council for a recommendation to remove her, and the audit council did so.

Robinson said the latest developments show that the auditor general for local government lacks independence if the minister only has to ask the audit council to fire the auditor and they do it.“I would think that the authority of the office is completely problematic,” she said. “We know it’s not independent. We’ve certainly seen that demonstrated over the last few weeks. So, to pretend that it is, is a bit of a farce.” Robinson said it’s clear now that the government did a poor job planning the office and writing the establishing legislation. “It was the premier’s pet project, not properly thought out, no consultation. Just an idea that flew into her head and she decided [it] was going to happen. This is what happens: You waste taxpayers’ dollars.”

Robinson has said the responsibility for scrutinizing local governments should be shifted to the provincial Auditor General Carol Bellringer, who, as an independent officer, reports to the legislature rather than a ministry. Oakes, however, said the government plans to fix the current structure. “I’m very disappointed by the inability for us to resolve this in any other way,” she said. “But I absolutely remain committed, focused, and determined that we are going to be successful, and that is going to require us looking at some changes. “

In the meantime, Oakes said the audit council will recommend an acting auditor general to fill the position.