Strathcona Regional District directors are considering making moves to become more transparent with their travel claims and expenses.
The board, at last week’s Thursday meeting, approved a motion to have regional district staff report back on the feasibility of posting both directors’ and staff’s travel claims on the organization’s website.
The move was initiated by board Chair and Sayward Mayor John MacDonald who said he feels the regional district should “strive to be as transparent as possible when spending the public’s money.”
He acknowledged that the regional district does release Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) reports annually which list all directors’ remuneration and expenses but they’re not very detailed reports.
“Although we publish annual SOFI reports that show total expenses charged by directors and staff, these reports do not include any details and I think we could do better as an organization,” MacDonald said.
“It’s my idea that it would be good for us to be on the leading edge of this and put our expense claims on the website.”
Area C Director Jim Abram said he supported having staff report back – although he pointed out that directors’ expense reports are available if the public requests them – but was concerned about privacy issues.
“There is confidential third party information on the claims such as phone bills and addresses,” Abram said. “These people would have to give consent or it would have to be redacted (blacked out) or else it can’t be published.”
Abram said his worry is that it would take up too much of staff’s time to go through all of the claims and determine what should and shouldn’t be redacted.
Area D Director Brenda Leigh, who was the only director opposed to having staff report back on the initiative, shared Abram’s same concerns.
“I believe there is not a necessity for this work to be done. Staff already examine our expense claims. I think this is a bit unnecessary,” Leigh said.
“I would worry staff would have to spend a lot of time redacting information and doing busy work.”
MacDonald argued that “taxpayers have a right to know what we spend their money on.”
Gold River Director Brad Unger agreed.
“I don’t see any harm in the report being done by staff to show the public how we’re spending their money.”
Leigh still wasn’t sold.
“I think even just the report is a waste of time,” she said.
“I don’t think anyone’s running around buying $16 glasses of orange juice.”
Campbell River Alternate Director Marlene Wright disagreed and applauded MacDonald for his efforts.
“I applaud you for being proactive, I think the public has to know,” Wright said.
“Nobody’s saying expenses here are out of line but it prepares everybody to be transparent.”
MacDonald said he was inspired by an editorial that appeared in the Mirror that suggested that the public’s confidence in its local officials could be improved with greater transparency.
“I have discussed this with staff and believe that having expense claims published regularly on our website would also support the SRD’s (Strathcona Regional District) core values of integrity and transparency,” he said.