February Newsletter 2019
I write this from the very heart of the deep freeze that came at the beginning of February and, from my eternal optimist, glass-half-full perspective on life, has only served to highlight what a mild winter we’ve enjoyed so far. This past Friday, February 1, I had the opportunity to spend the entire day on strategic retreat with the City of Calgary’s Audit Committee at the amazing facility of Ralph Klein Park - out on the prairie oceanic southeast edges of our city.
By current standards, in both the public and private sectors, the City of Calgary has a remarkably sophisticated audit function. In my first eight years on Council I watched contentedly from the sidelines as we took a great structural set-up (the City Auditor’s Office is a fully independent branch of our City’s corporate structure - the City Auditor along with the City Manager are the only two employees of Council) and evolved it into the high-functioning state it is in today (thanks to the successive chairmanships of Brian Pincott, Richard Pootmans, and now Evan Woolley). At the start of year 9 of my now 11 year Great Neighbourhoods mission at City Hall I felt it was my time to contribute to our Audit Committee. It turns out, it was a good time to join.
The purpose of the retreat was to explore further evolution of the Audit Committee from the detail work of financial controls and the broader work of risk management, to the next-generation, best practices work of acting as the City of Calgary’s strategic conscience. This is an amazing place to be in the broader sense of continuing to advance the Great Neighbourhoods mission, but will be particularly critical over the next year as Council wrestles with some of the huge opportunities and challenges that need immediate attention, but will have lasting strategic impact.
This past week that ended with the Audit retreat began on Monday with a strategic session of Council where we reviewed the big four unfunded capital priorities of Council in the context of our downtown tax shift revenue crisis. The BMO expansion, the possibility of the City contributing to a new Events Centre (Flames Arena), the ~50+ year aspiration to build a field house, and a historic redux of the Arts Commons represent a ~$1.7billion investment in infrastructure that will either drive us forward into enduring success, or beggar us. On City Council right now there are small coalitions who are opposed to one or two of these four projects but this opposition is tempered by a slim majority, of which I’m a member, who feel we need to accomplish all four as soon as possible. As of Monday’s retreat we are bolstered by ongoing work that hasn’t extinguished that possibility.
I am grateful however that we have a sophisticated audit function to stress test the decisions that lie ahead, both in terms of the math as well as their alignment to our strategic objectives. I’m also extremely interested to receive your feedback on these aspirational projects. And I look forward, next month, to digging deeper into the solutions we’ll be bringing to bear in addressing our tax shift crisis. In the meantime, enjoy the winter, it’s integral to who and what we are as a city!