Port Coquitlam to post expenses monthly online
Port Coquitlam taxpayers will be able to review councillors' expenses online every month following a unanimous decision at the city's Finance and Intergovernmental Committee meeting Monday.
Currently, councillors' pay and expenses are reported in the statement of financial information (SOFI), which is released once a year, usually in the spring.
But after reviewing a similar initiative in Vancouver, PoCo has decided to put tallies of conference expenditures and other councillors' spending on its website.
"You have the potential to have concerns when you don't have the information," said Mayor Greg Moore, who also posts information about people he meets with online. "It's going to city business and so why not share it with everyone?"
Moore pointed to the city of Vancouver's monthly online expense reporting as an example of what PoCo is trying to do, noting that people's concerns and freedom of information requests dropped in that city when the information was posted regularly online.
The PoCo information will include a summary, similar to what is included in the SOFI reports, as well as more detailed information for each councillor (see sidebar, page 9).
"Now, people can judge whether it's a good way of spending money or not," Moore said.
Coun. Michael Wright, one of the city's longest-serving politicians, said the motion drew very little debate and the time is right to get the data online.
"I think it's a reasonable thing to do," Wright said, adding that it makes the city more transparent and open even though he personally never heard any concerns from taxpayers about expenses.
"I think all levels of government have a level of mistrust by the public," he said. "I think they feel that big government is there to not necessarily to help them all the time.
"I think this is one way of trying to improve the image of government, in our case municipal government," Wright said.
The decision to post council members' expenses monthly online comes as two former senators have been formally charged by the RCMP with one count each of fraud and breach of trust related to inappropriate Senate expense claims.
And last year, decisions by local politicians to spend the night downtown at taxpayers' expense rather than at home to during the Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual convention in Vancouver drew fire in some quarters.
A detailed account of expenses for Port Coquitlam's mayor and councillors show they're regulars at local fundraisers and other special events.
A report of expenses for January to December 2013 is more detailed than the usual summary appended to the annual Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) report that's made available to the public and makes for interesting reading.
The itemized expenses, which will now be reported monthly online in PoCo, show the Union of BC Municipalities and Federation of Canadian Municipalities conferences made up the bulk of expenses for some councillors, with galas and fundraisers such as the Heart of Hawthorne Foundation Gala and the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce Nominees Luncheon making up the remainder.
Last year, Mayor Greg Moore was the biggest spender, at $3,735, followed by councillors Darrell Penner at 3,323; Mike Forrest at $3,077; Glenn Pollock at $2,127; Michael Wright at $1,119; Dean Washington at $240; and Brad West at $60.
In the list of expenses contained in the Finance and Intergovernmental Committee report, Mayor Moore's was among the most detailed, showing for example, he spent $8.86 at a coffee meeting. Meanwhile, one of the largest expenses detailed was $1,038 that Penner spent on accommodation and mileage to attend the FCM conference in Vancouver in May on top of $735 for conference fees.