Lethbridge Herald - - ODDS & ENDS -

As a first-term coun­cil­lor, Hyggen said he wanted to un­der­stand what was hap­pen­ing through­out the com­mu­nity. He par­tic­i­pated on sev­eral com­mit­tees, some of which required a fair bit of travel. For ex­am­ple, he sat on the ATB Cen­tre Pro­ject Steer­ing Com­mit­tee. They had the op­por­tu­nity to visit sim­i­lar cen­tres in Al­berta to learn about best prac­tices and bring some cost­sav­ing fea­tures back to the com­mu­nity.

“It’s im­por­tant to gather as much in­for­ma­tion as you can be­fore you make the de­ci­sions,” said Spear­man. “If you just come to a meet­ing and vote on it ran­domly with­out having done any re­search, with­out having learned from oth­ers across the prov­ince… you can’t do that by stay­ing in Leth­bridge.”

Hyggen also ac­com­pa­nied Spear­man on the 12-day Leth­bridge Trade Mis­sion Del­e­ga­tion to Asia. The trip was to pro­mote Leth­bridge as a good city for busi­nesses to in­vest in.

“And we’re see­ing that al­ready. We’ve seen some of those op­por­tu­ni­ties come in,” said Hyggen. “That would def­i­nitely be one of the larger costs for sure in this last year’s bud­get.”

On the Asia trip, Hyggen’s ex­penses were $9,447 including travel and a per diem, while Spear­man’s ex­penses were $6,304.

The rea­son Hyggen’s were higher is be­cause Spear­man typ­i­cally elects not to claim a per diem, though he is al­lowed. Be­ing mayor is al­ready a full-time job but coun­cil­lors are paid for part-time work, and travel takes them away from their other em­ploy­ment.

Spear­man said Hyggen is “one of the hard­est-work­ing coun­cil­lors” and for him to step away from his busi­ness costs him money.

“You do get paid to run for coun­cil, but peo­ple like Coun. Hyggen, who have to step away from their busi­ness, de­serve to be com­pen­sated from that,” he said. “I be­lieve that the com­pen­sa­tion that he’s claimed is fair. When you look at ex­penses of coun­cil as a group, there are some coun­cil­lors who par­tic­i­pate on com­mit­tees that re­quire trav­el­ling and Coun. Hyggen has been re­ally on most of those com­mit­tees.”

Spear­man said it was valu­able to have Hyggen along on the Asia trip as he is a lo­cal busi­ness owner and could share his experiences.

“When you’re get­ting a re­turn on investment that is mul­ti­ple times what you spent on your trip, I think the money was well spent,” said Spear­man. There have been three Chinese del­e­ga­tions come to Leth­bridge since their trip, one that is in­vest­ing “mil­lions of dol­lars” and cre­at­ing jobs in south­ern Al­berta with Starfield green­houses, he ex­plained.

In July 2014, coun­cil approved the travel pol­icy, which in­cluded

travel ex­penses re­ported on a monthly ba­sis and per diems to be in­cluded on the City’s pub­lic web­site ef­fec­tive Jan. 1, 2015. This mo­tion was brought for­ward by Hyggen, along with late Coun. Wade Gal­loway, to pro­vide more trans­parency to the pub­lic.

It isn’t clear how much past coun­cils have spent on travel ex­penses in pre­vi­ous years. Coun. Hyggen and Miyashiro are the only first-term coun­cil­lors, as the oth­ers have served for up to six terms.

“I think it’s fair for each coun­cil­lor to do in their good con­science what they feel is right and then be ac­count­able for it,” said Spear­man. “What they spent or didn’t spend, coun­cil­lors should be ac­count­able for in ev­ery way. I wouldn’t only pick on some­body who spent more than oth­ers. I would be ask­ing oth­ers why didn’t you spend any money?”

Spear­man said he stands be­hind Hyggen. When some­one runs for coun­cil, he said, they can “choose just to come to the coun­cil meet­ings or you can in­vest in is­sues, learn about them, and we can make de­ci­sions here in the city that ben­e­fit the cit­i­zens.”

As there will be sur­plus from this coun­cil’s travel ex­pense bud­get, half of that money will go back into the Mu­nic­i­pal Rev­enue Sta­bi­liza­tion Re­serve and the rest will be car­ried over to the next coun­cil for dis­cre­tionary uses.

Fol­low @Melis­saVHer­ald on Twit­ter

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