In a previous rant about city employee expenses Moose Jaw Express publisher Rob Ritchie wondered why highly paid city employees need to pad their salaries by up to eight per cent with taxpayer-paid expenses.
Twenty-one city employees racked up expenses worth $75,573 during one year – all money that came out of taxpayers’ pockets. Some employees added 13 per cent to their annual salaries that way.
Wonder what would happen if you or I added that kind of money to our employer bills?
Now the taxpayer expense claims by city employees and elected officials might be justified. They seem to meet the scrutiny and policy administered by the city.
The main concern stems from not knowing exactly what these claims are about.We have to take politicians’ word they are justified.
Research of city expenses by a blogger that the mayor and council tried to gag with the new communications policy provides more evidence of a need for public accountability of taxpayer funds.
Use by the mayor of his city credit card bought him a $48.99 birthday cake, a cake that the city apparently wasn’t reimbursed for until the Moose Jaw Independent brought the matter to the mayor’s attention.
His $28.99 credit card purchase of a cake for then councillor Don Mitchell stretches the definition of city business.
It appears lunch expenses include “working lunches” and hospitality expenses that might just as easily come out of pocket from non-entitled politicians.
Then we have the mayor’s 2017 expense claims for the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) convention.
Moose Jaw council members receive a daily meal allowance from the city for these SUMA conferences.
Yet Mayor Fraser Tolmie chose to submit a meal expense claim for $100.29 including a 20 per cent tip. Are his tips that generous when he uses his own money?
Coun. Crystal Froese adjusted her daily allowance to make up for meal claims.
How can we be certain that the mayor and other officials aren’t abusing expense claims on a daily basis? We can’t.
There is only one way to curb potential or existing abuses of taxpayer money with expense claims: Make them public.
Given the above claims and the possibility of abuse Moose Jaw needs a public airing of expense claims. Put them online.
An online site listing expense claims by the mayor, council and senior management would create more comfort among taxpayers of prudent spending on city business.
Such a site should act as a deterrent against abuse by all but the most brazen birthday cake buyers.
Precedent for online posting of elected members’ expenses exists. Both the Canadian Parliament and the Saskatchewan Legislature require posting of expense claims. That’s how the public found out about federal minister Bev Oda’s $16 glass of orange juice.
Looking at the Saskatchewan site one can discover Moose Jaw Wakamow MLA Greg Lawrence expensed claims worth $7,078.71 in 2018 – mostly for telecommunications, travel and tenders.
Moose Jaw North MLA Warren Michelson’s expense claims amounted to $7,332.60 – again mostly for telecommunications, travel and tenders
The federal site shows MP Tom Lukewski spent $471,000 last year with $288,000 for employees, $68,000 on travel, about $12,000 on a second residence, $14,000 on telecom and around $21,000 on constituency office rentals.
We haven’t a clue on what the mayor and council members claim as expenses. A petition to get these expenses online in the public view is in order.
Ron Walter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.