Analyze this - and that

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

Whistleblowers have had a rocky past in Hamilton. Make a peep about a perceived abuse or criticize an issue that doesn't follow mainstream thinking, and you can be sure the person making the comments will receive a certain amount of public and private grief.

It's an experience that Judy MacDonald-Musitano knows only too well. Soon after her loss in the Ward 2 byelection to Bob Bratina, she expressed concern about how the city's Downtown Loan Program was operating. She told Bratina, Stoney Creek councillor Dave Mitchell and senior administrators about a gnawing feeling that the program could be open to abuse by sophisticated scam artists.

Through her own sources, she heard that the Hamilton program was looked upon as "an easy way to make free money." The issue stayed clear of the public's radar until the summer, when Mitchell was caught speeding and blurted out to a police officer (and later to Police Chief Brian Mullan and members of the Police Services Board) that the Hamilton Police Service was "corrupt" and wasn't adequately addressing MacDonald-Musitano's concerns.

The issue then took on a transmogrified status, clouding the real issue: residents waiting for some form of acknowledgement from the city. "The city had an obligation to investigate my concerns," said MacDonald-Musitano. By not reviewing the program promptly, she says, it gave the illusion of a cover-up. "This issue could have been dealt with quietly. Why wasn't it?" she asks. After a three-month investigation, the OPP Anti-Racket Department, which also investigates corporate and organized scams and frauds, determined that they have "not uncovered evidence of wrongdoing" within the program. It's interesting to note both city staff and MacDonald-Musitano were united in applauding the result - but for different reasons.

City Manager Glen Peace and Mayor Larry Di Ianni were pleased the department and its employees had stood the test of a series of vigorous investigations.

MacDonald-Musitano, after a two-hour meeting with the detective-sergeants of the OPP this week, was told the officers weren't surprised she had expressed her concerns over the program. She said the officers confirmed that her concerns about the program were "legitimate."

The city's Director of Audit Services, Ann Pekaruk, stated in her audit that overall the program was integral to the city's plans for revitalizing the downtown core. But she added the loans program had administrative problems, including the proper evaluation of the application process, the need for risk assessment to be done on applications and the need for restructuring of the program's administration. "There was a potential for abuse," said MacDonald-Musitano. "(The improvements) saved taxpayers a tonne of money because it was open to that abuse. The safeguards are now in place."

In an earlier interview, Di Ianni said when he first got wind of possible problems with the program, he and Peace ordered an internal audit. An external audit was also done to reinforce the city's review, he says.

The moral of the story? MacDonald-Musitano says 'Thank God' for community watchdogs, who blow the whistle on issues they believe are legitimate to improving the city. "Would I do it again? Absolutely! We have a democracy. One should be able to express a concern without fear of reprisals."

Kevin Werner is regional reporter for Brabant Newspapers. He can be reached by calling 905-308-7757, ext. 36, or by email at kwerner@brabantnewspapers.com

Analyze this - and that

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

Whistleblowers have had a rocky past in Hamilton. Make a peep about a perceived abuse or criticize an issue that doesn't follow mainstream thinking, and you can be sure the person making the comments will receive a certain amount of public and private grief.

It's an experience that Judy MacDonald-Musitano knows only too well. Soon after her loss in the Ward 2 byelection to Bob Bratina, she expressed concern about how the city's Downtown Loan Program was operating. She told Bratina, Stoney Creek councillor Dave Mitchell and senior administrators about a gnawing feeling that the program could be open to abuse by sophisticated scam artists.

Through her own sources, she heard that the Hamilton program was looked upon as "an easy way to make free money." The issue stayed clear of the public's radar until the summer, when Mitchell was caught speeding and blurted out to a police officer (and later to Police Chief Brian Mullan and members of the Police Services Board) that the Hamilton Police Service was "corrupt" and wasn't adequately addressing MacDonald-Musitano's concerns.

The issue then took on a transmogrified status, clouding the real issue: residents waiting for some form of acknowledgement from the city. "The city had an obligation to investigate my concerns," said MacDonald-Musitano. By not reviewing the program promptly, she says, it gave the illusion of a cover-up. "This issue could have been dealt with quietly. Why wasn't it?" she asks. After a three-month investigation, the OPP Anti-Racket Department, which also investigates corporate and organized scams and frauds, determined that they have "not uncovered evidence of wrongdoing" within the program. It's interesting to note both city staff and MacDonald-Musitano were united in applauding the result - but for different reasons.

City Manager Glen Peace and Mayor Larry Di Ianni were pleased the department and its employees had stood the test of a series of vigorous investigations.

MacDonald-Musitano, after a two-hour meeting with the detective-sergeants of the OPP this week, was told the officers weren't surprised she had expressed her concerns over the program. She said the officers confirmed that her concerns about the program were "legitimate."

The city's Director of Audit Services, Ann Pekaruk, stated in her audit that overall the program was integral to the city's plans for revitalizing the downtown core. But she added the loans program had administrative problems, including the proper evaluation of the application process, the need for risk assessment to be done on applications and the need for restructuring of the program's administration. "There was a potential for abuse," said MacDonald-Musitano. "(The improvements) saved taxpayers a tonne of money because it was open to that abuse. The safeguards are now in place."

In an earlier interview, Di Ianni said when he first got wind of possible problems with the program, he and Peace ordered an internal audit. An external audit was also done to reinforce the city's review, he says.

The moral of the story? MacDonald-Musitano says 'Thank God' for community watchdogs, who blow the whistle on issues they believe are legitimate to improving the city. "Would I do it again? Absolutely! We have a democracy. One should be able to express a concern without fear of reprisals."

Kevin Werner is regional reporter for Brabant Newspapers. He can be reached by calling 905-308-7757, ext. 36, or by email at kwerner@brabantnewspapers.com

Analyze this - and that

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

Whistleblowers have had a rocky past in Hamilton. Make a peep about a perceived abuse or criticize an issue that doesn't follow mainstream thinking, and you can be sure the person making the comments will receive a certain amount of public and private grief.

It's an experience that Judy MacDonald-Musitano knows only too well. Soon after her loss in the Ward 2 byelection to Bob Bratina, she expressed concern about how the city's Downtown Loan Program was operating. She told Bratina, Stoney Creek councillor Dave Mitchell and senior administrators about a gnawing feeling that the program could be open to abuse by sophisticated scam artists.

Through her own sources, she heard that the Hamilton program was looked upon as "an easy way to make free money." The issue stayed clear of the public's radar until the summer, when Mitchell was caught speeding and blurted out to a police officer (and later to Police Chief Brian Mullan and members of the Police Services Board) that the Hamilton Police Service was "corrupt" and wasn't adequately addressing MacDonald-Musitano's concerns.

The issue then took on a transmogrified status, clouding the real issue: residents waiting for some form of acknowledgement from the city. "The city had an obligation to investigate my concerns," said MacDonald-Musitano. By not reviewing the program promptly, she says, it gave the illusion of a cover-up. "This issue could have been dealt with quietly. Why wasn't it?" she asks. After a three-month investigation, the OPP Anti-Racket Department, which also investigates corporate and organized scams and frauds, determined that they have "not uncovered evidence of wrongdoing" within the program. It's interesting to note both city staff and MacDonald-Musitano were united in applauding the result - but for different reasons.

City Manager Glen Peace and Mayor Larry Di Ianni were pleased the department and its employees had stood the test of a series of vigorous investigations.

MacDonald-Musitano, after a two-hour meeting with the detective-sergeants of the OPP this week, was told the officers weren't surprised she had expressed her concerns over the program. She said the officers confirmed that her concerns about the program were "legitimate."

The city's Director of Audit Services, Ann Pekaruk, stated in her audit that overall the program was integral to the city's plans for revitalizing the downtown core. But she added the loans program had administrative problems, including the proper evaluation of the application process, the need for risk assessment to be done on applications and the need for restructuring of the program's administration. "There was a potential for abuse," said MacDonald-Musitano. "(The improvements) saved taxpayers a tonne of money because it was open to that abuse. The safeguards are now in place."

In an earlier interview, Di Ianni said when he first got wind of possible problems with the program, he and Peace ordered an internal audit. An external audit was also done to reinforce the city's review, he says.

The moral of the story? MacDonald-Musitano says 'Thank God' for community watchdogs, who blow the whistle on issues they believe are legitimate to improving the city. "Would I do it again? Absolutely! We have a democracy. One should be able to express a concern without fear of reprisals."

Kevin Werner is regional reporter for Brabant Newspapers. He can be reached by calling 905-308-7757, ext. 36, or by email at kwerner@brabantnewspapers.com