May 27th, 2024

Council, mayor chip away at expenses impasse

By Collin Gallant on May 7, 2024.

Mayor Linnsie Clark listens to a response from city solicitor Ben Bullock during Monday's city council meeting.--News Photo Collin Gallant

@@CollinGallant

City councillors accused Mayor Linnsie Clark of “waging a vendetta against administration” in requesting expense and severance information at city hall, but Clark says it’s better to get the information out in the public.

The contentious issue came to a head Monday in 90 minutes of discussion that eventually resulted in several motions to address Clark’s concerns passed, two others voted down, and a costing for the major information request due back at council.

In the end, it was Clark and Coun. Romona Robins – who debated pointedly over the past month as the issue arose twice and was delayed twice – who hashed out how to move the issue along.

“I just want the information, but it’s the hurdle I have to go through,” said Clark following discussion introducing a motion to potentially fund the accounting exercise.

Clark has argued all along that she “shouldn’t have to ask” for the information that she sees as simply a part of her duty to provide financial oversight.

Councillors said in response that such a large request potentially requires budget amendments, and that goes above existing financing reporting and should be decided by council.

Robins said the ask to review all employment contracts and payments over four years was too large to be considered a day-to-day request.

“In order to provide that to Mayor Clark, the use of administrators’ time and taxpayers’ dollars should be approved by council,” she said, adding that she requested cost estimates and a further explanation from Clark on Feb. 24 – four days after the initial request – and suggested it be made a notice of motion.

“There’s no explanation why the information is so targeted,” she said.

As it is, council voted to get a cost estimate to gather years of data from employment contracts, severance agreements, expense claims and study how other cities reveal such information.

“I’m happy it’s progressing but I do wish it had got to this point a little earlier … but I’m happy that we’re on a path,” said Clark. “Given the comments, there are different views on different sections of the request, (but) hopefully … we can have a conversation about those.”

Councillors agreed by a 5-3 margin to request a cost estimate to gather the information – originally Clark asked for four years of data to get a view of past practise, she said, but was agreeable to a shorter time span.

Defeated by a 5-3 count was a request for “detailed accounting” of all funds reallocated by the city manager. An overview list of capital changes was tabled at audit committee and council last month, said audit chair Coun. Darren Hirsch. Clark said her concern extends to the operating budget.

As well, a motion that would send city manager expense reports to audit committee on a regular basis for overview also fell 5-3, when councillors argued the mayor already sees and signs off on the manager’s expenses.

Clark said expense reports that she’s seen appear to be in line with spending policy, but she felt limited in discussing reports with other councillors to propose policy changes.

Coun. Shila Sharps said she would back the mayor’s goal of financial oversight more broadly.

“When it’s so pointed, absolutely I feel it’s accusatory,” she said. “I’m not OK with picking and choosing” who gets expenses published. She felt a wider purchasing card audit would be valuable.

Hirsch also said the city’s outside auditor has recently completed a scan of purchasing card activity, and in the future spot checks for senior officials could be ordered.

Coun. Darren Hirsch said the request should have come to him at audit committee, which he said performs wide oversight on city spending.

City manager Ann Mitchell said the information will show practice conforms to policy, but is privileged to a degree.

“I have no issue with my expenses,” Mitchell told council. “We’ve stayed under our policy and stayed in budget. There’s nothing flagged, but I don’t have an issue getting this information to council, but severance agreements are private and that needs to be protected … in closed session.”

Coun. Robert Dumanowski said Clark’s request was an example of “weaponizing” calls for “accountability and transparency” to further political agenda.

“These are not buzzwords to be weaponized, they’re being used to undermine and embarrass our senior administration,” he said.

Couns. Hirsch and Hider agreed with the sentiment.

Coun. Allison Van Dyke said the issue puts the rest of council in a “no win situation”

“If I vote against it, I look like I’m against transparency, and if I vote for it, it suggests I have concerns about administration, when neither is the case,” she said.

Coun. Andy McGrogan said the issue “sows the seeds of doubt about whether the city manager is foolin’ the deck,” said McGrogan.

“We need to ferret out things that are untoward, but I haven’t seen anything. If it’s a policy issue (about expenses or benefits), let’s discuss that.

“Coun. Robins is looking to find a middle ground, and I appreciate that, but I can’t support it,” he said.

Share this story:

31
-30
Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments