British Columbia

Whistleblowers to be encouraged following financial fiasco at Prince George city hall

The City of Prince George is developing a plan to help whistleblowers working at city hall come forward if they have concerns about the way municipal finances are being handled. It comes after revelations that city administrators knew about millions of dollars in cost overruns in the construction of a downtown parkade.

City manager rubber-stamped millions in cost overruns without council approval

The city of Prince George, B.C., is developing a plan to help whistleblowers working at city hall come forward if they have concerns about the way municipal finances are being handled. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

The City of Prince George, B.C., is developing a plan to help whistleblowers working at city hall come forward if they have concerns about the way municipal finances are being handled.

The move is part of a broader set of changes being made by mayor and council following revelations that city administrators knew about millions of dollars in cost overruns in the construction of a downtown parkade, but failed to inform elected officials for months. Instead, the city manager at the time committed to a higher price tag of more than $20 million at the same time as council was being asked to approve a lower budget of $12.6 million.

The project is now expected to cost up to $34.1 million once complete.

"We certainly understand the people of Prince George are extremely concerned and angry with what's happened," mayor Lyn Hall said in a prepared statement Monday afternoon. "We have to ensure policies are in place to prevent the mistakes that took place."

Hall said the whistleblower policy would be aimed at making sure both employees of the city and elected officials have a "clear, confidential roadmap" to come forward if they have any concerns about the way business is being conducted at city hall.

The city is launching a legal review of the parkade project and will be hiring an external firm to review the costs and management of other major projects to come.

Hall said the changes do not reflect a lack of confidence in city staff, but are instead designed to bring Prince George in line with best practices at city halls in other B.C. municipalities, which he said regularly engage firms such as KPMG or PriceWaterHouseCoopers to conduct external audits of major capital projects.

He also denied he had been informed of the cost overruns in 2018, as indicated in documents obtained by the Prince George Citizen newspaper through freedom of information requests.

"I did receive an email that there was a potential for overruns and I would be kept in the loop, but ... information wasn't passed along," Hall said.

'Premature' to discuss legal action

Hall said it was "premature" to comment on whether the city would pursue legal or disciplinary action against any past or current city employees, as suggested by Coun. Kyle Sampson on Jan. 11.

Instead, he said, council is launching a thorough review of "what went wrong" over the past four years in relation to the parkade project and associated costs.

Other changes being made include a reduction in the amount of money the city manager can spend without council oversight and more regular reviews of that spending by elected officials.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca. You can also send encrypted messages using Signal to 250.552.2058.

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