Hamilton’s Lesson For Windsor
By Robert Tuomi
(WINDSOR, ON) – Probably there was only one man in the Windsor city council’s windowless chamber on the evening of July 9, 2012, who really knew the value of independent review the day the music died for the auditor general. But in the end a motion put in play by councilor Biagio Marra to keep the Auditor General’s position went down to defeat. Such a defeat clearly illustrates that he has as much diplomatic skills as the rest of his fellow inwards on council and was unable to take on the task of convincing his selfish peers of the benefit of independent review. And thusly the era of having an independent third party, with unique powers, to review what is going on in the city is over.
Without question Marra waited too long to bring up the most potent fact that he could muster when he complained that all the talk of the Auditor General failing, or at least the concept, was not all that accurate given that the city really hadn’t put in play the kind of system he was proposing, a city employed auditor with outside resources.
Marra knew full well what the supporters of tossing out the auditor general’s position would say and do. The city’s mayor Edgar Francis gave enough clues in various media interviews. This even included the outlandish claim that outsourcing the function to a commercial accounting firm would give the city access to a wider range of expertise. He did not explain that such access does not come cheap.
If Marra had only studied some history he could have had it in the bag. In the end all he had to do was convince a few councilors and the vote would have went his way. If only he sat down for a few minutes and contemplated the strategy used by Alexander Hamilton that effectively knitted together a constitution that gave a rag tag collection of colonies known as America its marching orders. If Marra really understood politics he would know the extreme measures, Herculean in nature, that preceded Hamilton’s success and the heavy lifting it took.
In fact Hamilton is still a superstar among political gurus and public relations experts even to this day simply because what he did is as contemporary today as it was back in the 1700’s. It remains almost a playbook in how to influence politically powerful friends and strangers. But, alas, as is typical in Windsor, no one wants to do any heavy lifting.
Yawn, it is work.
Marra certainly has failed his community given he is about the only guy in town who really should understand the value of independent review. A while back, Marra, a double dipper, took on the role of running the Foundation over at the city’s Hotel Dieu Grace. When he was just getting his feet wet, Claire Brownell took a look at what he was doing and reported in the Windsor Star Monday, March 12, 2012 that “a large well-paid staff and high fundraising costs ate up more than half of all spending at the Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital Foundation during the past three tax years. During the tax year ending in 2011, the foundation gave $278,000 to the hospital, accounting for just 22 per cent of the $1.2 million the organization spent over that period of time.”
It was not a pretty picture and caused many a jaw to drop in the city given so much money was being gobbled up to fund fundraising activities and staff with only a small trickle going to the hospital. Marra was quick to agree that this was not right and admitted that he was “conducting an operational review of the foundation that he will present to its board of directors this month.”
It is not known what the review produced but the mere fact that Marra was taking a look at things, with no malice but solely for the purpose of finding out how to do better and become more effective at least suggests that he understood how having a second pair of eyes glued to a situation can have value.
One of the things he found out was that “Two staff members at the Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital Foundation made between $80,000 and $119,999 annually during that period.” Small details that can have a big impact. Marra says he fixed that problem and now the only person in that wage category is himself.
One of the accusations that the city mayor Francis lodged about auditor generals was that most of the so-called problems in the city were not caught by the Auditor General. This seems odd because Todd Langlois, fired for rudely wanting to audit things, really hadn’t done any major audits and was only with the city for nine months spending his time working up a plan.
The misinformation that went flying among the inwards on Windsor city council at its infamous meeting will probably be seen by Langlois as par for the course. He has since filed a wrongful dismissal suit against the city and told CBC News March 1, 2012 that “I’ve never had my work challenged, ever. And there’s a lot of inaccuracies out there and that will all come out.”
Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But what is known is that the inwards can now operate with considerable impunity. The inwards say they are not afraid of audits but, aside from Marra and a few others, seem to be very afraid of auditor generals.
If only Marra understood the tactics of Hamilton. The result could have been very much different.
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