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Councillors' spending revealed

Often-quirky buying uncovered among their purchases

Posted: 04/11/2012 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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In 2011, Mayor Sam Katz and three city councillors spent a total of $4,939 on iPads and accessories for the addictive Apple tablets.

Elmwood-East Kildonan Coun. Thomas Steen, a former centre for the original Winnipeg Jets, spent $225 to donate a new Jets jersey to charity. Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, an active-transportation enthusiast, spent $96 on a handbag for her bike. Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck spent $70 in airline charges because her suitcase was too heavy during a city business trip.

In total, the mayor's office and 16 city councillors -- St. Vital had two last year -- spent about $2.1 million on office supplies, staff salaries, rent, gas, parking, airfare, telephones, postage, advertising and other expenses related to elected office in 2011.

But the specific details of the spending were not disclosed to the public, because the mayor and council only began posting their expenses publicly in 2012. To obtain the 2011 spending details, the Free Press filed a freedom of information request to see how each councillor spent the $73,948 ward allowance and how the mayor's office spent its $1.1-million discretionary budget.

The 2011 spending records reveal Brian Mayes (St. Vital) spent $763 on poinsettias, Coun. Russ Wyatt (Transcona) spent $635 on turkeys for the Winnipeg Rotary Club and council Speaker Grant Nordman (St. Charles) spent $27.82 to fix an office lamp instead of buying a new one.

And along with Katz, the elected officials with new taxpayer-funded iPads are Couns. Mayes, John Orlikow (River Heights) and Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan).

Here are more details of council's spending records in 2011, from the bizarre to the mundane:

Don't mess with Mom's stuff!

ASKED to explain a $69 charge for downloading music from iTunes, an embarrassed Coun. Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) confessed her two young sons accessed her account without her permission and have since learned an "expensive lesson."

She paid the money back to the City of Winnipeg and posted what her boys owe her on the family fridge. The kids are working off their debt by doing household chores.

"That's not an acceptable expense," she said. "I have paid (the city) personally, and they're paying me back."

Well, that sucks

ROOKIE Coun. Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) paid the city $116 after her executive assistant went to Walmart and purchased the wrong model of vacuum cleaner for her constituency office on Leila Avenue.

"It was a mistake. I don't want a $99 vacuum from Walmart," Sharma said. "But it was at the end of the year and there was no time to do anything about it. So I wrote the city a personal cheque."

Guess Hu didn't pay for Katz's party?

BACK in 2010, Mayor Sam Katz's office spent $2,915 in public funds on a Christmas luncheon at Hu's Asian Bistro, a restaurant owned by the mayor. But taxpayers did not foot the bill for the December 2011 edition of the same party, as there is no expense on the books.

"It was not paid for by the city -- that's why it's not in the 2011 expenses," Katz spokeswoman Carmen Barnett said in an email.

Katz did, however, spend $125 at Hu's Asian Bistro at a pair of business meetings in 2011.

Russ Wyatt, king of the power lunch

ONCE again, Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt earns the distinction of spending more on business meetings in restaurants than any other city councillor. Wyatt spent $5,010 on business meetings, beating second-place lunch spender Havixbeck by more than $1,800.

"I believe in getting things done. You've got to sit down, you've got to eat, to get things done," said Wyatt, whose restaurants of choice ranged from the Original Pancake House to the Dim Sum Garden.

While Havixbeck spent only $3,194, she had higher-end taste, choosing establishments such as 529 Wellington and Pizzeria Gusto.

Former St. Vital councillor Gord Steeves, meanwhile, managed to spend $2,382 on business lunches in only eight months. He resigned in August to run unsuccessfully for provincial office.

Thriftiest councillor and biggest spender

HONOURING the spirit of the late "Mayor of Charleswood" Bill Clement, who was famous for low spending, Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Havixbeck used up less of her constituency allowance than any other councillor -- $68,497.65.

Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, meanwhile, came closest to spending every penny allotted -- $73,946.52. That left her $1.48 below the limit.

No assistant? No problem!

BY spending less than any other councillor on executive assistants -- $18,693 -- Transcona's Wyatt had more room for discretional spending than most of his peers last year. Along with racking up the biggest business-meal tab, the 10-year council veteran managed to lead all councillors in spending on advertising ($14,623), automobile expenses ($8,660) and business travel ($4,381).

"I'm leading in business travel because Gord Steeves is no longer on council," Wyatt quipped, adding his auto expenses are higher because of Transcona's location.

Wyatt's advertising expenses, meanwhile, included a billboard campaign aimed at the provincial NDP government when Wyatt was trying to get Ottawa and the province to commit to building the Plessis Road underpass.

The kids gotta eat

MYNARSKI Coun. Ross Eadie devoted almost a third of his allowance -- $23,212 -- to ward activities, which typically involve donations to community groups. The inner-city councillor dispersed funds for the likes of school scholarships, barbecue supplies and lawn bowling.

Point Douglas Coun. Mike Pagtakhan, another inner-city councillor, spent $18,666 on ward activities, including $327 to feed kids from Dufferin School. St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal's $17,547 ward-activities tab included $350 for a "pea soup tournament."

bartley.kives @freepress.mb.ca

jen.skerritt @freepress.mb.ca

For a detailed account of what was spent in each ward, see more details here:

Councillors representation allowance expenses

Mayor's Office expenses

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 11, 2012 B1

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