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McKay tops list of City of Nanaimo spenders

Elected official Bill McKay is the biggest spender on Nanaimo city council, financial reports reveal.

The City of Nanaimo has released its 2013 Statement of Financial Information, which details remuneration and expenses for elected officials and top-salaried employees.

It shows that more than $57,000 was spent by Nanaimo city council last year with McKay leading the pack with $14,972 in expenses. Since the 2011 election, expenses of the first-term politician have climbed to $22,509, making him the highest-spending elected official on council.

Mayor John Ruttan is the second-highest spender with $22,499 logged since late 2011 and $11,705 spent last year. Coun. Diana Johnstone followed the mayor for highest expenses in 2013 with $6,368, but first-term councillor George Anderson has spent $13,481 since the civic election, making him the third-highest spender overall.

According to McKay, the majority of his expenses are tied to conferences. In 2013, he took 10 trips, including eight conferences that ranged in topics from housing to waste management. Political office is a steep learning curve, “so I wanted to do whatever I could to learn,” he said, adding his objective has been to figure out how to create a more efficient government. McKay, who often advocates for reduced city spending, does not see the expense as hypocritical.

“Mine is 25 per cent of the entire council [expenses] this year, but I have been to more places, met more people and learned more things about other communities than anyone else on council,” he said.

“I believe what I’ve learned by these experiences ... is going to benefit the community greatly in the future,” McKay said.

About 73 per cent of McKay’s total spending was on conferences in B.C. and Canada, including $2,187 for Calgary’s Western Sponsorship Conference  and $2,432 for the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in Vancouver. Another $2,700 was spent on legal fees to look at potential conflicts of interest, he reports.

Ruttan, who had the second-highest expenses, said he attends a number of events council members do not and is involved in a mayors’ task force that sees him travel to other B.C. communities. Expense reports from 2013, show he took eight trips, including to Montreal to accept a bronze award from the Institute of Public Administration of Canada on behalf of Nanaimo. The trip cost him $1,350. He also spent $1,324 to attend a mayors’ caucus in Prince George and $4,508 for two municipal government conferences in Vancouver.

According to Ruttan, there is no limit for the number of expenses a council member can charge. It’s at their discretion whether they attend events or conferences.

“You have two choices, not to go, or go,” he said of event invitations. “Each councillor has to be responsible for the expenses they make and somehow be able to justify it.”

The highest spenders among city employees included: Kirsty MacDonald, parks and open spaces planner with expenses of $15,527; Guillermo Ferrero, director of information technology and legislative services at $12,774; and firefighter Tim Doyle at $12,354.

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