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Committee nixes audit of mayor's, chairs' discretionary spending

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A council committee turned down a request this afternoon to audit the discretionary spending of the Mayor’s Office and that of the committee chairs.

Councillors Paula Havixbeck and John Orlikow wanted the mayor’s $116,000 discretionary spending and the $7,000 given to each chair of executive policy committee to be included in the 2013 audit conducted by the city auditor.

But a majority of committee members said the auditor had enough work to do for this year, and the discretionary spending is already being examined as part of comprehensive review of councillors’ ward allowance spending.

"The need to be open and transparent has never before been higher," Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) told the governance committee. "There is a different set of rules applied on the mayor’s budget and on the chairmanships’ budgets."

Havixbeck said the discretionary funds allocated to the five chairs of EPC should be subject to the same rules that govern how the councillors spend their ward allowances, known formally as their discretionary allowance.

There are regulations that govern eligible councillor expenses, Havixbeck said, but those regulations are not applied to the additional $7,000 a councillor receives as committee chair or to the mayor’s discretionary budget.

Orlikow (River Heights – Fort Garry) said no one is making allegations about improper spending, but subjecting that spending to audit is the right thing to do.

"I go on the principle of lead by example," Orlikow said. "The more we can be open and the more we can be accountable, it helps everything."

Unclear how chairs' cash should be spent: Havixbeck

Orlikow said he doesn’t understand why the same oversight applied to councillors isn’t applied to the mayor’s office and the committee chairs.

Councillors have a ward budget of about $116,000. Spending is subject to specific criteria.

Councillors who are appointed chair of one of the five executive policy committees – protection and community services, infrastructure renewal and public works, finance, downtown development, property and development – receive an additional $7,000, which is not subject to review.

The mayor’s office also has a discretionary fund of about $116,000. There are no rules governing what constitutes eligible expenses but the mayor’s office does post the spending online.

Recently, Coun. Harvey Smith was questioned over his decision to spend $1,600 on fake street signs to highlight the problems of deteriorating back lanes – but he listed it as advertising. The governance committee ruled it wasn’t advertising but let it slide.

Coun. Devi Sharma said the question of oversight for the discretionary spending is being looked as part of a comprehensive review by the committee, and the offices of the city clerk and city auditor.

Sharma (Old Kildonan) said it’s premature to subject the mayor and committee chair’s discretionary spending to audit before the review is complete.

Committee chair Grant Nordman, who is also council speaker, said it would be unfair to impose new spending rules on committee chairs and the mayor’s office.

Nordman said he expected recommendations from the comprehensive review would be released by May 2014 and in place following council elections next fall.

Havixbeck said when she was a committee chair she asked how the additional $7,000 was to be spent but she was never given a clear answer.

"Some said it was for travel, some said it was for additional meals …but I never got a clear answer," Havixbeck said, adding she believes that each member of a committee should get a share of that $7,000 for related committee work.


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