Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman is pushing back against attempts to have his office expense budget policy reviewed and approved by city council.
Councillors on the governance committee proposed the mayor’s office expenditure policy – which Bowman first unveiled in January 2017 – become an official policy of council.
But Bowman and members of his executive policy committee deleted the provision at the EPC meeting Wednesday, recommending the policy only be reviewed by an independent, outside auditor.
Bowman said council shouldn’t have a say on how he and future mayors spend their office funds, adding it’s "unfair" and creates the potential for the policy to be "politicized."
"The reason why I don’t support having members of council vote on the mayor’s office expenditure policy is really a matter of fairness. You’d have 15 members of council voting on a policy that doesn’t apply to them," Bowman told reporters following the EPC meeting. "I don’t want to do anything that’s going to weaken the effectiveness of the office of the mayor."
Bowman and EPC did agree to other provisions recommended by the governance committee, including having the mayor’s expense policy posted on the city’s website and having the code of conduct for members of council and their assistants also apply to the mayor’s office staff.
While councillors on EPC unanimously supported Bowman on the issue, other councillors said they don’t understand Bowman’s rationale.
"For (Bowman) to say the expense policy is his policy to control and only him, is wrong," said Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski).
Eadie said the mayor is being hypocritical in his position, noting Bowman didn’t hesitate to propose changes to the councillors’ expense policy for declaring the value of gifts and on the eligibility of alcohol purchases.
"So, the mayor thinks it’s okay for him to tell councillors how their funds should be spent but councillors aren’t allowed to consider the mayor’s spending? That’s nonsense," Eadie said. "It’s all taxpayer funds and council decides together on how that money should be spent. What, he’s not part of council now?"
Coun. Devi Sharma, chairwoman of the governance committee and council Speaker, said council collectively determines how all taxpayer monies are spent and the mayor’s office spending should not be an exception.
Sharma said the office expense policy developed by Bowman, in consultation with city staff, is a good one with checks and balances, but it needs the approval of council to ensure it also applies to future mayors.
"It is important to go one step further and have the mayor’s expense guidelines be a council-approved policy to safeguard taxpayer dollars today and in the future," said Sharma (Old Kildonan).
Coun. Cindy Gilroy voted for the provision in early May, as a member of the governance committee, but she flipped her vote Wednesday, supporting Bowman’s decision to delete it. The Daniel McIntyre councillor did not respond to a question as to why she changed her vote.
Bowman didn’t say Wednesday where the funds would come from to finance an annual review of his office expense by an outside auditor.
Bowman said he was the first mayor to adopt an office expense policy and make it public, but the issue has concerned council for several years.
Eadie first proposed the mayor’s office expenses become subject to council policy in 2013, in the aftermath of then-mayor Sam Katz using office funds for a 2010 Christmas party at a restaurant he owned.
In June 2014, council voted 15-1 to have the clerk’s office develop a policy on the mayor’s office expenses and the requirement for an annual audit.
Bowman informed council Dec. 30, 2016, he had developed a policy and it would be posted on his website in early January 2017.
That policy requires the mayor’s expense policy to be regularly reviewed by the city's chief financial officer and recommendations for changes be provided by the city clerk’s department, the city auditor and EPC. The policy also requires the city auditor to audit the mayor’s expenses each year.
Bowman told reporters voters will judge him and future mayors on closely he adheres to the policy.
"I will be judged, as a future mayor will be judged, on what that policy is, how it’s being implemented," he said. "Having it externally audited as well provides that oversight that never existed in the past."
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.