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McKay cuts spending while Bestwick group’s expenses rise, new report reveals

Mayor on track to spend half last year’s total. Bestwick group members cost $14,500 in legal fees. We pay $6,500 for council members' Internet.
Sharply lower spending by Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay has council expenses on course to be significantly under budget, a new report shows.

Bill Bestwick
Bill Bestwick: expenses jumped 59%

But several councillors, including majority leader Bill Bestwick and his council allies Gord Fuller and Ian Thorpe, have already spent more in six months than they did in all of last year.

The new council spending report, which was brought in under council’s spending policy in March, shows that council members have so far spent a total $41,243.07 or just 35% of their $118,000 annual budget. However, first-half expenses are 63% of last year’s $65,298.60 total expenses.

Council expenses tend to be front-weighted due to most conferences occurring in the first half of the year, suggesting council expenses will be markedly under budget for the full year but equal to or higher than last year’s spending.

Pratt biggest spender so far

The biggest spender is Councillor Wendy Pratt, who spent $6,582.87 in the first six months of the year. That is 49% of her annual $13,500 budget but 89% of what she spent all of last year.

Councillor Jerry Hong is the second-biggest spender year to date. He spent $6,088.69  compared to the $7,759.07 he spent in all of last year.

The lowest spender is Councillor Jim Kipp, costing taxpayers just $1,051.49 in expenses, which is about half of what he spent in all of 2015.

Fuller’s expenses rocket 367%

Gord Fuller
Gord Fuller

However, councillor Bestwick has already spent 59% more in six months than he did in all of last year. He has spent $4,844.81 year to date compared to $3,039.47 he spent in 2015.

Councillor Fuller, meanwhile, has spent a whopping 367% more in the first half of this year than he did in all of 2015. His expenses have cost taxpayers $4,706.96 year to date compared to just $1,008.68 in all of last year.

Councillor Thorpe’s expenses for the first six months are 18% higher than for all of the prior year. He spent $2,038.22 to the end of June versus $1,729.79 in the 12 months of last year.

Despite already having spent more than last year, councillor Fuller is the third-lowest spender. Councillor Thorpe has the second-lowest expenses.

McKay on track to cut expenses 50%

Mayor Bill McKay
Mayor Bill McKay: cut expenses

Mayor McKay, who has been heavily criticized as a big spender by the Bestwick majority, is on track to spend less than half of what he did last year.

The report shows he spent $6,025.78 or 40% of his $15,000 annual budget. His total expenses last year, which included a China trip, were $28,302.37.

Included in the mayor’s expenses were $4,428.52 for various municipal conferences and travel expenses, $782.32 for Internet and phone services, and $150.23 for meals.

The mayor also spent $664.71 for 13 separate events, including a seminar he attended with Councillor Diane Brennan titled “Dealing with People Who Drive You Nuts.”

Five cost taxpayers $14,585.40 for legal bills

Five councillors — Bestwick, Kipp, Hong, Fuller and Bill Yoachim  — together spent $14,585.40 on two legal bills from Victoria law firm Cook Roberts, which uses the tagline “The expertise to solve your legal problems.”

The five consulted the law firm after Councillor Brennan’s lawyer sent a letter saying censure measures initiated against her for speaking out about the unusual hiring of Chief Administrative Officer Tracy Samra were without foundation and illegal.

While no censure measures were ultimately taken against Councillor Brennan, the spending report shows that the city has not reimbursed any of the legal costs she incurred defending herself against council’s in-camera actions.

What taxpayers paid for

The new spending report shows that taxpayers footed the bill for council members to attend various municipal and professional development conferences to the tune of $17,431.17 in the first six months of the year, which is by far the biggest bucket of expenses.

Councillor Pratt, Mayor McKay and Councillor Brennan spent the most on attending conferences. Councillors Bestwick, Kipp, Yoachim and Fuller spent the least. Some councillors argue attending conferences broadens their knowledge, gives them new ideas and makes them better at their jobs.

The next major conference is the Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention in Victoria in September, for which each council member has a budget of $2,500. Councillors Brennan and Pratt have already paid accommodation deposits for the conference. They’ve booked into the plush Magnolia Hotel & Spa.

The next highest expense was for legal fees, followed by council members’ home Internet subscriptions. In total, taxpayers were billed $6,534.87 for Internet fees from January to the end of June. Nanaimo is one of only a few cities that pays this perk for its elected officials.

Council members also billed the city for the cost of the call display feature on their home phones. That cost taxpayers $1,059.28. Councillor Fuller didn’t bill for this feature, while Councillor Bestwick billed more than twice what any other councillor did, $256.80 versus $114.64 the others claimed.

New report big improvement in transparency

The new spending report, which will be updated every three months, is to be presented to council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday.

Compared to previous expense disclosures it offers much more detail than was provided in past expense reports, which were released only once per year in compliance with provincial law.

While past reports only gave summaries of expenditures, the new report gives an itemized listing of expenses. It will likely be well received by local governance watchers.

“Public bodies need to get into the business of routinely disclosing expenses, including receipts,” said Dermod Travis, Executive Director of Integrity BC. “The purpose of the expense and who it may have involved in the case of meals or entertainment must be included.”

However, Mr. Travis pointed out one small issue that Nanaimo council might want to take another look at.

“Meals between elected officials or between city staff should be ineligible for reimbursement, as is the case in Ontario today,” he said.

The latest report shows that most council members charged the city for their meals at a “special Core Services Review meeting” at 2 Chefs affair on May 27.  Councillor Fuller was also reimbursed $4.64 for “coffee with Tracy Samra” at the Vault Cafe.

For all the details, see the complete report embedded below.

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