Essex council expenses come under fire Essex council will consider a new expense policy next month after some councillors and residents complained about the excessive spending and travelling cost of a few councillors.
“I asked council to adopt a policy that stops ridiculous spending on conferences and bring the assets back to the community,” said Coun. Randy Voakes has been on council for 11 years and has never attended a conference.
He pointed out that the town spends $90,000 a year sending staff and councillors to conferences, which Voakes insists were little more than vacations.
“No one has ever said I attended this conference and here is what I learned we can do,” Voakes said. “Not once…Strop drinking champagne and eating caviar while the wheels are falling off back home.”
Coun. Sherry Bondy has not attended any conferences paid by the town. She did go to a conference recently that she paid for out of her own pocket because a third of her income is tax free.
“I’ve seen spending going on without accountability,” she said. “There is no maximum on the number of conferences you can attend.”
The expenses of two councillors stood out.
Coun. Bill Baker spent $8,141 last year on travel, mileage and per diems, while Coun. John Scott spent $7,600.Most councillors had less than $2,900 in expenses except for Coun. Morley Bowman who had $5,021.
As a group, councillors spent $202,803 on compensation for remuneration, phones, internet, computers, conventions and mileage in 2013, up 5.5 per cent from the previous year.
Scott said he sees tremendous value in attending conferences.
Last year he went to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities meeting in Vancouver and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario in Ottawa. Scott said he often takes a day off work at Chrysler without pay to do town business and will be the masters of ceremonies at the Bike Summit conference in Toronto. That trip will be paid by the Bike Summit.
“Our (chief administrative officer) feels (conferences) are important,” Scott said. “There is value in networking, gathering up (ideas) and taking it back and applying it to your council. I don’t apologize for that.”
He pointed out that while Voakes doesn’t attend conferences, he filed $1,129 in mileage expenses despite living close to town hall.
“Randy (Voakes) doesn’t come out to Harrow,” Scott said. “He doesn’t come to events and miss work. He doesn’t go to conferences and he’s proud of that.”
As a member of the committee of adjustment, Voakes said he drives around the municipality inspecting properties that are coming up for consideration on his committee.
Scott also pointed out that Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche and Mayor Ron McDermott are members of County Council and able to get the county to pay for conference expenses. McDermott had $2,385 in expenses last year, mostly mileage.
Meloche, who had $2,869 in expenses last year, said the county only pays for county business. Meloche, as chairman of the County Library Board, said he went to a library conference at the urging of county administrators because the county library system was being considered for a prestigious award.
“We are always concerned about what we are spending on anything,” Meloche said. “That’s why we are looking at it.”
Director of Corporate Services Donna Hunter refused to disclose details of the proposed expense policy because it hadn’t been given to council yet. While council expenses for a conference are already restricted to $2,500 per conference, the new policy will probably cap the number of conferences a councillor can attend in a year.
It will also probably only reimburse a councillor for the cheapest method of travel, Hunter said. For example, if a train ticket is cheaper than driving, then the councillor would only be reimbursed the cost of a train ticket rather than mileage if the councillor chose to drive.
Voakes said the town has recently purchased some pickup trucks for town business, and if councillors want to drive to a conference they should take a “corporate vehicle.”