White Rock city council voted Monday to boost its expense allocations to reflect the new four-year council terms, however one provision made to out-of-town expenses did not sit well with every council member.
The policy changes were first proposed at a May 25 governance and legislation committee meeting – and voted on at Monday’s regular council meeting – and called for increases to the amounts councillors and the mayor can receive for educational expenses and reimbursement for expenses incurred at local community events.
The changes also include a provision that would require the mayor’s “pre-approval” for expenses incurred outside of Metro Vancouver, a recommendation that was met with opposition by two.
Coun. Helen Fathers told council she felt “there’s a problem with the language around it,” and she preferred it be changed, using her position on the Fraser Valley Regional Library Board as an example of why she didn’t agree with the provision.
“A member of council who is approved by council to serve on the Fraser Valley Regional Library Board, which is indeed outside of Metro Vancouver… this policy now speaks to also having it approved by the mayor to have the expenses submitted,” Fathers said. “And that just does not make sense.”
Dan Bottrill, the city’s chief administrative officer, told council the intent of the policy change was to “provide for those circumstances outside of the city for which there is legitimate council business,” allowing the mayor to have authority to approve expenses.
Coun. Lynne Sinclair, who was not in attendance at the May 25 committee meeting when the issue was first discussed, said she understood the provision was meant to cover “one-off” situations, and provide a level of “protection” for councillors.
“As an individual councillor, I don’t want to decide whether it’s OK for me to stay somewhere,” Sinclair said. “I saw it as… a sanction that means I’m not going to be the subject of a public discussion of where I stayed and why.”
Fathers tabled a motion calling on staff to rework the language in the policy amendment; her motion was not carried, with Coun. David Chesney voting in favour and Couns. Meyer, Knight, Sinclair and Mayor Wayne Baldwin voting against. (Coun. Bill Lawrence had stepped out of council chambers at the time of the vote).
Prior to Monday’s decision, Baldwin told Peace Arch News that meetings outside Metro Vancouver are sometimes “pretty spur of the moment,” and members don’t have the opportunity to bring the expenses forth to council as a whole for approval.
“The idea is to make sure that we treat those (expenses) consistently and that there is some kind of process to go through, so that people – not that it’s ever been an issue – don’t go running off doing stuff without getting some discussion about it first,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin said the instance of a council member taking a business trip out of town “doesn’t happen a lot,” and such expenses do not amount to significant figures.
City staff told PAN that detailed information about previous council members’ out-of-town expenses would require a freedom of information request, as council’s annual expenses are reported as lump-sum figures. There is currently an estimated 30-business-day wait time for such FOI requests.
City clerk Tracy Arthur said she was unaware of other cities that include the provision that require the mayor’s pre-approval for out-of-town expenses.
The increases to expenses allow councillors to be reimbursed up to $900 annually (currently $750) to represent the city at community events. Additionally, councillors will be allocated $5,400 for “discretional education conferences or education materials” for the four-year term; previous to Monday’s vote, councillors were allocated $4,000 for the three-year term for such expenses.
The amount allocated to the mayor for educational expenses will increase to $8,000 (for four years) from $6,000 (for three years).