“Finance Follies”

“I am now ‘going public’ as I believe that the taxpayers have a right to know how some of the potential gains from amalgamation are being squandered or jeopardized by inattention at best, and outright incompetence at worst. I am afraid of repercussions, but I am quite frankly sick and tired of the incomplete or inefficient direction that we receive, and of the callous and uncaring treatment to which the staff of the Finance Department Accounting Division are being subjected.” 

Jeff Goodall, Cover Story: May 9th to 30th, 2000.

On February 29 of this year, I wrote a letter to Wanda Liczyk, who is the Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer of the City of Toronto, and also my boss. In it, I blamed senior management for what I perceive as serious problems within the Finance Department Accounting Division. I pointed out that the issues I raised ‘have the potential to cause embarrassment to the department and to yourself.’

On March 2, I received a reply from the Director of Accounting, around whom my concerns had primarily revolved. His letter contained several statements with which I took issue in an itemized reply dated March 9, to which I have not received a response. In this story, it is my intention to identify the problems which I brought to the Treasurer’s attention, and in the next issue to write about the Director of Accounting’s reply and my unanswered response to that reply.

As it seems that the Treasurer has effectively abdicated her responsibilities by referring my complaints back to the person about whom my letter primarily revolved, I am now ‘going public’ as I believe that the taxpayers have a right to know how some of the potential gains from amalgamation are being squandered or jeopardized by inattention at best, and outright incompetence at worst. I am afraid of repercussions, but I am quite frankly sick and tired of the incomplete or inefficient direction that we receive, and of the callous and uncaring treatment to which the staff of the Finance Department Accounting Division are being subjected. Bear in mind while reading this that I am a clerk in the banking section, responsible for preparing bank deposits and making related entries into the accounting system. I also recently became a Local 79 shop steward, against my best wishes, in response to the arrogance and cavalier attitudes of senior management. I filed a grievance around Christmas 1998, which is still floating about in the system somewhere.

To get to the basics, there is a lack of direction to staff and administrators in other city departments, (and within Finance itself), about essential accounting procedures, and the department is either unwilling or unable to issue enforceable directives. To quote from my letter of February 29 to the Treasurer, with regards to cash receipts and receivables procedures: ‘…clerical and supervisory staff are not receiving precise instructions as to the expectations of middle and senior management, causing supervisors to make up their own rules for their own areas of responsibility…one of the accounts receivable supervisors issued an instruction to all departments which was contrary to the understanding that the banking supervisor had received from the Manager of Accounting, regarding procedures to be followed. This caused my supervisor to issue his own instructions in contradiction. Why is the Manager or Director not making things clear to the supervisors? Staff in all departments were confused, and some took the attitude that they might as well do things their own way so far as they were able. This was a contributing factor to what I have noticed as an ‘us versus them’ mentality between other departments and Finance, and between staff of the previously existing municipalities because their accounting systems were different.

‘It seems clear to me that there is no central control, certainly no-one willing to set out the rules and monitor compliance. At present we have a variety of forms in use, some appropriate and others difficult to work with. This indicates that central control of the forms in use by all departments is necessary, and someone should be in charge.

‘A meeting was held sometime in December between the Banking Supervisor, (who called the meeting in sheer frustration), and supervisory and clerical staff from a variety of departments. Some of them travelled across the city to be here. I was present, and during the discussions, in which we stated our needs and requirements and discussed ways of implementing the outlines provided to us by more senior management staff, it became very clear to me that if we had all been assembled and told what was needed in the first place, we could have thrashed it out then, and avoided a lot of the problems with which we are plagued. I was also very pleased with the group dynamics which developed. It is unfortunate that we were unable to avail ourselves of these positives prior to embarking on this difficult journey.

‘It became clear to me during the meeting, that as a result of negligible or non-existent leadership from the Manager and Director of Accounting, staff in other departments were trying to find a way to accommodate the new system by utilizing their previously-existing systems, rather than by submerging their existing systems into SAP. We will never become one operating entity under these circumstances.’

In other concerns, I said in my letter to the Treasurer: ‘This idea that the Finance Department is here to ‘serve’ its ‘clients’ has resulted in rather bizarre accounting situations. For example, the accounts receivable staff in the Accounting Division are required to raise receivables for cheques at the time that we receive them from other departments. To my mind, a receivable is something to be set up to record an asset which will be realized at some point in the future, not when we have it in our hands. The only reason I can think of as to why we are put through this is so that we effectively provide the department involved with a sub-ledger for their books and they don’t have to bother. One may also wonder how the departments control their receivables; if a cheque is not received, certainly Finance won’t set a receivable up; how would we know? Do the departments carry out their collections without having an actual outstanding invoice, or an account record to work from? How much money are we at risk of losing?’

And, ‘To this day, I receive cheques that have been sat on for so long that they are stale-dated or almost so. This is not just a matter of one or two cheques, it is quite literally dozens of them. I have been sent as many as five monthly cheques from new tenants, often with letters or notes asking us to please deposit the cheques which they have already sent. With our tight money situation, it seems unconscionable that we could hold onto cheques for so long, and what if a disgruntled tenant tells the media that we are not cashing cheques for months at a time… individual cheques in amounts up to $1 million are regularly sat on for anything from a few days to a month or two. I deposit cheques over $50,000 promptly on receipt, but this is of little use if it takes so long for the cheque to be forwarded from the department receiving it.

‘As I am currently receiving cheques dated as far back as late August and September of last year, how can we possibly record our 1999 revenue properly until at least July of this year? Are receivable records being kept, and if they are, who is doing the collection work, quite apart from why are cheques piling up in such significant numbers? I do not have a degree in accounting, but I don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that if the component parts of a whole are not working properly, then the whole is not working properly either.’

And finally, ‘I wish to bring to your attention that the fax machines, photocopiers and printers on the 13th, 14th and 15th floors of Metro Hall are overworked and break down frequently, particularly the photocopiers. The wastage in lost time is compounded by the negative affect on morale which can be caused by staff wandering from floor to floor looking for a machine which is both available and working (and) are you aware of the instructions issued by (the Director) earlier in the year telling us that we would be ‘required’ to work at least eight hours overtime during the week, plus at least six hours on weekends according to a schedule? This is utterly ridiculous, not to mention arrogant. If Finance had kept enough staff, then this situation could have been avoided.’

See original here.

Comments are closed.