Holes found in hat system
Councillors spar over travel budgets
Bay Roberts Councillor Gerald Greenland raised the issue of travel budgets for councillors during last week’s regular council meeting. Coun. Greenland was referring specifically to the taxpayers’ money spent on attending Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ (FCM) conventions.
The national conventions are held annually all over the country.
The councillor said he was “very disappointed it took four or five months for a recommendation to come back to council” from the Finance Committee.
It appears Councillors Greenland and Bill Seymour had made a request to attend the upcoming FCM conference to be held in Whistler, BC, June 4-8.
Council had earlier decided that due to financial constraints only two councillors would go per year.
Just after the current council was elected they decided to put their names in a hat as a way of choosing who would go. Because it’s a four-year term and only seven members, it was decided the mayor would put his name in twice. All four years were drawn at the same time.
Councillors Clarence Mercer and Gerald Greenland were chosen first (2006). When the time came to go, Greenland had prior commitments made and couldn’t attend, so Coun. Mercer attended alone.
This year the luck of the draw will see Mayor Glenn Littlejohn and Coun. Walter Yetman attend the BC convention.
Last year Coun. Seymour and the mayor were picked to attend. However Seymour was scheduled for surgery and Deputy Mayor Melvin Walsh was chosen to go in his place. The deputy mayor had attended the convention in 2007, the second year
of this current term, along with former councillor Dennis Brown.
“To save the town money I told them a month in advance that I wasn’t going,” said Coun. Seymour, after the meeting.“Melvin and Glenn got two trips out of it. If we’re not going to be fair, I think we should forget going to the conferences altogether.”
“I remember bringing a motion to council and we all agreed on a baseline. When we set down the ground rules we said we would put names in a hat. My name came out but I had prior commitments. Coun. Seymour, through sickness, was unable to travel. You offered a replacement to travel in his place,” Greenland said to the mayor.
“I’ll never accept any more travel unless I know how much it will cost and how much is left (in the budget),” the councillor continued.“I can’t look at it as a government-mentality budget — if it’s there, spend it,” he said. “I’ve requested the travel budget, but didn’t get it. I think some people have already exhausted their amount.”
Seymour said he feels he deserves the trip.
“When we set it up, we set it up so all councillors would have a chance to travel. Last year I couldn’t go,” said Coun. Seymour, “but figured I would go this year. Too bad I won’t get a trip this year, it may be my last term,” he said.“I’m not upset, but you’d like to get your turn.”
The mayor told council,“it’s only a recommendation and if council feels we’ve been wronged, it’s within your right to overturn it.”
Nobody over budget
Littlejohn apologized to Greenland because it had taken a while for the committee to get back to him.
“We’re following the budget, nobody’s gone over their budget,” the mayor said. “If I thought there was some abuse going on, I’d inform you.”
“Can’t we get a list of the travel at the end of the year?” asked Coun. Wood.
“That’s not a problem,” said the mayor.
“When we do up a budget for FCM it was that it would be two councillors per term,” he said. “I know Coun. Greenland had work commitments and Coun. Seymour was sick. It was unfortunate that I went in Coun. Seymour’s place, but it was still in the budget.”
Greenland said he wouldn’t have been attending anyway because he couldn’t take the time off work.
“What I offered was: I have a budget this year, I offered to use my budget this year. I’m not upset,” Coun. Greenland added. “Most of these points I brought up before and I intend to follow through with them. I’m sure there are councillors here who would like to be told if they’re close to budget.”
“I assumed the town clerk would tell us,” said Coun. Mercer. “And if we have regulations I think it’s only fair we adhere to them.
“I concur with Coun. Greenland,” said the deputy mayor. “There are times when councillors are gone and we’re not aware of it.”
Councillors can, however, get copies of the travel policy and expenses from the town clerk at any time. (See related story for travel budget information)
Coun. Walter Yetman suggested the matter be brought up again at the next meeting.
Council made a motion to deny a request for two additional councillors to travel to the FCM convention.
Coun. Seymour voted against the motion.