Clarity sought by White Rock city staff on ‘discretional’ education

City council debates reimbursement eligibility of post-secondary courses.

White Rock city hall.

A request for clarification of White Rock’s council remuneration policy raised more questions than answers at a governance and legislation committee meeting Monday.

Clarification was being sought by city manager, Dan Bottrill, with regard to Policy 106, which allocates funds for “discretional educational conferences or education materials,” and was recently amended to reflect council’s four-year terms. The amounts allocated include $8,000 for the mayor and $5,400 for each councillor.

Bottrill brought the policy to the committee following a request for reimbursement for a college or university course, “to assist with their knowledge of different aspects, whether it be finance, communications, marketing or parks management,” Bottrill said.

Bottrill’s query set off a lengthy discussion amongst council on the wording of the policy and whether university courses would be eligible for reimbursement.

Mayor Wayne Baldwin noted the policy arose as a way for council members to gain insight into areas that would help them make better decisions.

“At the time, council saw the need for the occasional opportunity, where the councillor might take a seminar on land use, or community amenity contributions or zoning, that sort of thing,” Baldwin explained, noting the term ‘discretional educational conferences’ should be “easily distinguished” from other long-term courses.

Coun. Lynne Sinclair agreed, noting that her understanding was that it covered “sessions that help us to be better councillors, not something where someone gets a degree through this process.”

Coun. Helen Fathers suggested the addition of “non-accredited courses” to the wording, however, Coun. Bill Lawrence said he was “apprehensive” to make that amendment, as many post-secondary institutions offer accredited courses as “one-offs.”

“Someone might not be pursuing a full degree, but that one particular course would be beneficial in making them a better councillor,” Lawrence said.

Baldwin said he didn’t anticipate any members of council would be “going crazy” with the reimbursement opportunity.

“I always put out the warning that, hey, if you aren’t sure, just ask yourself the question, would you feel happy if this was on the front page of the Peace Arch News?” Baldwin said.

As the discussion neared the 20-minute mark, Bottrill reiterated the need for some clarity, noting he had already approved such courses for a council member in the previous year, but was still unclear on council’s intentions moving forward.

At the suggestion of Baldwin, the committee referred the issue to be brought back at the July 27 council meeting, with amended wording in the policy.

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