Meetings, expenses, and the code of conduct…oh my

When one is running for a position on their local municipal or regional council, it is difficult to make campaign promises. You can’t say that you will absolutely accomplish x, y, or z, as you have to rely on a majority of the rest of that Council agreeing with you in order to achieve your goal.

That said, one can promise to work on specific issues to bring them forward in an effort to achieve a particular result.

During the campaign, which – for me – was from May 7, 2018 through to October 22, 2018, I made a few promises to bring specific issues forward and outlined what my desired goal was. The complete list of promises I made during the campaign can be found here. The list contains 10 specific promises that I made, and I’m writing this blog post today to let you know that I’ve already begun work (formally) on three. (There are others that I’m working on, bu that I’ve not yet formally brought to Council or Committee or made a public statement about.)

First, the inaugural Coffee with Laura event will take place from 1pm to 3pm on Saturday, February 2, 2019, at Mahtay Cafe. You can find out more information on the Facebook event page, which is: https://www.facebook.com/events/523434121501540/. These coffee events are informal opportunities for the citizens of St. Catharines to chat with me about issues relating to regional politics. I will not be making a formal presentation of any sort, and I would like to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to join the group to speak with me.

St. Catharines regional Coun. Laura Ip. – Grant LaFleche, The St. Catharines Standard

Second AND third, I promised not only to make my expenses public (I have none so far, save for the dinner after the inaugural Council meeting), but also to work to ensure that an expense policy is 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. In addition to that, I also promised to review the Code of Conduct that was drafted by John Mascarin (the former Integrity Commissioner) to ensure that we have a robust Code in place that holds Regional Councillors to a higher standard.

At the January 9, 2019, Corporate Services Committee meeting, I made the following asks (verbatim):

I would like to request a report from staff about how we can improve the expense policy, specifically related to councillor expenses. I know this is part of what Professor Sancton is addressing through the Governance Review. He is an expert in governance. I would like to know what our accounting and finance professionals think should be improved with respect to approvals, spending limits, what kinds of expenses should be permitted, required back up documentation, etc. I would like that report to come back to Council at that same time that Professor Sancton’s report on this issue comes to Council.

I would also like this Council to revisit the issue of the Code of Conduct. The citizens of Niagara expect – and they should expect a certain level of decorum and professionalism from their elected officials, and the current Code doesn’t address that as fully as many would like. I recommend we start with the Code that was drafted by Mr. Mascarin and that that come back to next month’s Corporate Services Committee meeting.

I clarified for staff and other councillors that the expense policy piece coming to Corporate Services before it goes to Council is fine, and that I want both pieces to be in front of Council at the same time.

The St. Catharines Standard article about the requests I made can be found here.

I will keep you updated on how these issues proceed, as well as keeping you apprised of the headway I make (or don’t, I suppose) on the other promises I made during the campaign.

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