Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/2/2012 (1920 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For the first time, the public can take a peek at the mayor's phone bill or see which charities their city councillor has supported.
January marked the first month Mayor Sam Katz and members of city council were required to post a more detailed account of how they spend their taxpayer-funded allowances. Previously, councillors' expense reports were posted online four times a year, and the public could only see a summary of what they spent for general items such as advertising or ward activities.
The only way to see exactly how Winnipeg's elected officials spent their taxpayer-funded allowances was by filing a freedom-of-information request.
Now, anyone can see more specifics on how that money is spent. Councillors are entitled to spend approximately $74,000 a year on office supplies, salaries for assistants, printing, transportation, business meetings, computers and telephones, among other expenses. The mayor's office -- which employed a staff of about 10 people last year -- spends around $1 million annually.
Online documents show Katz's office spent slightly more than $73,100 in January, including $553 on parking-space rental and $2,000 to sponsor the YMCA-YWCA Women of Distinction awards.
Councillors spent between $1,700 and $7,900 in January. Coun. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge) spent $1,210 on training from Alliance Franßaise, Coun. Justin Swandel (St. Norbert) spent $1,500 to advertise on rental benches, Coun. Russ Wyatt (Transcona) spent $224 on floral gift baskets and Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski) gave the Andrews Street Family Centre a $1,000 grant.
The increased transparency is a move auditors and advocates maintain is necessary. Canadian Taxpayers Federation Prairie director Colin Craig said the changes are positive and Winnipeg should be commended.
"I think this is a good first step," he said. "Ultimately, taxpayers should have access to that information so they can hold politicians accountable for how they spend those funds."
The changes came after council approved stricter rules that dictate how they can and can't spend taxpayer-funded allowances.
City auditors had previously urged council's governance committee to enact tighter rules. In 2010, auditors found six of the 19 people who served as a city councillor submitted proper documentation for charitable donations.
Governance committee chairman Coun. Grant Nordman (St. Charles) said the public can now see which charities councillors support, instead of all charitable donations being lumped together under the general category of "ward activities." Nordman spent $200 to attend a gala in support of military families last month and said the new system has made everything more open.
"I'm not ashamed to say I supported a charity," he said.
Craig said other cities such as Toronto have taken even more steps to increase transparency, and scan every expense receipt and post them online for the public to peruse. He said Winnipeg could potentially make all expense receipts available for the public to see in the clerk's office.
The Free Press filed freedom-of-information requests to obtain council's 2009 and 2010 expenses and is awaiting the results of a request for council's 2011 expenses. The Free Press asked for the 2011 expenses but was instructed to file a formal freedom-of-information request, despite the city's policy of proactive disclosure.
"They should just be up front and release the details. That would be the best approach," Craig said.
-- with files from Bartley Kives