Expenses should be public knowledge

The citizens of Niagara elect 31 people to represent them on Regional Council.

Those 31 people, then, in the course of doing their jobs as elected representatives, spend money we pay through our taxes. Often, they’re making decisions about spending that money on housing or policing or public health initiatives or road construction. Sometimes, they’re spending that money on lobster dinners or driving to the Region (which most of us would say is their place of work).

For the last several months, after some highly questionable expenses came to light (like a regional councillor charging us for his mileage to Toronto on a regular basis to appear on a radio show that had nothing to do with Niagara or a regional councillor charging us for his legal fees for a case he brought against most of the rest of the members of Regional Council or regional councillors billing us for their drive to Niagara regional headquarters for meetings), journalists at The Standard have been doggedly chasing the Region through FOI requests and other investigative journalism to release the details of all expenses, including receipts.

Yesterday, Grant LaFleche posted this update on the story. (There’s a whole thread.)

In response, I retweeted the thread and posted one additional comment:

Here’s where I’m at:

First of all, it is unfathomable to me that regional councillors are not required to keep much more detailed records of the ways in which they are spending our money. Whether employed elsewhere or working for myself, I have always kept very detailed records of expenses, including receipts and other clarifying notes (where necessary), so that when it comes time to account for those expenses, I know how and why the money was spent, especially for the rare time I’m charging an expense back to a client.

Second of all, the practice of just paying expenses that are submitted without an approval process is dangerous (as we’ve seen with the latest use of our money to distribute informational/advertising flyers in various communities). I have never worked in a place that doesn’t have some sort of approval process for expenses.

Finally, there actually is no good reason as to why the details of past expenses can’t be posted now. Either the Region can invest $200 (at most) in a scanner that uses OCR technology (I don’t know that I’ve ever come across a scanner that doesn’t) or they can scan the images of the receipts as they are and have someone transcribe notes of each receipt alongside each image. (I am loath to see staff time and resources spent in this way, but this is the situation current regional councillors have put us in.)

So, here’s another commitment to you, the voters of St. Catharines: If I am elected to represent you at Regional Council, I will publicly post all of my expenses on an at least quarterly basis, just as I’m doing here with my campaign expenses, and I will never charge the cost of driving to and from Niagara regional headquarters.

Further, I will bring a motion to Council to have an expense policy put in place that more clearly details how councillors can spend Niagara Region money, what they can and cannot spend it on; outline how expense records shall be kept in order to be reimbursed, and implement a procedure whereby all expenses are to be approved by the Regional Clerk before they are paid out.

Promises made to date:

2 thoughts on “Expenses should be public knowledge

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