Regional board to disclose travel expenses

The Strathcona Regional District will publish staff and elected directors’ travel expenses on its website starting in the new year.

At last week’s Thursday meeting, the regional district’s board of directors voted to have staff develop and implement a policy of posting expenses on the regional district’s website effective Jan. 1, 2017. The initiative was put forward by Sayward Mayor and Board Chair John MacDonald in September. His reasoning was that it would increase transparency and let taxpayers know how their money is being spent.

“My intent was just to put the expense claim up,” MacDonald said at Thursday’s board meeting. “Just so the taxpayer knows what we’re doing and what we’re spending their money on.”

Area C Director Jim Abram said he had “no problem with that” but cautioned that sometimes personal and confidential information can appear on an expense claim.

“If you were meeting with somebody in-camera, that would have to be checked by staff and that would be something that would have to be redacted,” Abram said.

But CAO Dave Leitch said the regional district would not publish detailed receipts, just the basic claim form that lists generic information such as how much a director or staff person claimed for mileage, their hotel and food.

Still, Area D Director Brenda Leigh – who, along with Abram, voted to oppose the new policy – said she was concerned the practise would take up too much of staff’s time.

“I believe there is not a necessity for this work to be done. I would worry staff would have to spend a lot of time redacting information and doing busy work,” Leigh said at a board meeting Oct. 27. “I think this is a bit unnecessary. I don’t think anyone’s running around buying $16 glasses of orange juice.”

Tom Yates, the regional district’s corporate services manager, wrote in a report to the board, however, that publishing the expense claims online won’t significantly cut into staff’s time.

“Questions have arisen in a previous discussion about the additional staff time that would be required if such a policy was implemented,” Yates wrote. “In response, it is suggested that this would be minimal based on a monthly average of seven to eight staff expense claims and 20-24 director expense claims. The vast majority of staff time associated with expense claims would continue to be devoted to claim verification and payment processing.”

MacDonald said he was inspired to pursue posting expense claims after reading an editorial that ran in the Mirror in September. The editorial suggested that having to make their expenses public on an ongoing basis may cause politicians to think twice before making inappropriate travel expense claims and increase the public’s confidence in its elected officials.

MacDonald said he hopes the Strathcona Regional District will do just that and set a positive example.

“I believe we would be on the leading edge, endorsing a system that allows the public to see the details of our individual expenses on an ongoing basis, showing that we are sincere about our pledge of accountability to the people who fund our operations,” MacDonald said. “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’s) core values of integrity and transparency.”