Coun. Jerry Hong tops list of Nanaimo city council spenders

NANAIMO – Latest release of council expenses shows Hong, Coun. Wendy Pratt and Mayor Bill McKay top spenders.

Charges for legal costs and a government conference have made first-term City of Nanaimo Coun. Jerry Hong the top spender on council so far this year.

Hong spent the most in the first nine months of the year, followed by Coun. Wendy Pratt and Mayor Bill McKay, according to updated council expenses released by the City of Nanaimo.

As part of a new financial policy, the city is releasing politicians’ expenses every quarter and in the year they’re incurred. Previously, residents would have had to file a Freedom of Information request to see what their politicians had spent, or wait until June 2017, when the city releases its annual Statement of Financial Information.

The latest numbers are interim, according to Victor Mema, city chief financial officer, who said until he produces the Statement of Financial Information the numbers are subject to change because they’re still being worked on.

So far, Hong is leading the pack with $8,010 in expenses, $3,593 in legal fees and $2,236 for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Winnipeg as the biggest charges.

As a first-term councillor, he said he’s been going to conferences, and if his legal expense was taken off his total the numbers would be completely different.

“There weren’t really any other items on there that I spent a lot of money. I think the legal opinion was the biggest one,” said Hong, who pointed out that he pays out of pocket for coffee meetings and for the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference this year, he did not stay overnight, but charged to attend and for gas.

“I am very conscious about the cost,” he said.

Pratt’s expenses total $7,485, including $2,909 for the federation conference, and $1,025 on the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in Victoria, where she stayed overnight. She also spent four times her $250 budget on conferences and travel, which totaled $1,178 and was to attend High Ground Governance Conference in Harrison Hot Springs. A program on the Centre for Civic Governance website shows the event included workshops on climate, food systems and how to make refugees welcome.

The mayor was once the highest spender on council, with $28,000 in costs in 2015. He has spent $7,352 between January and the end of September, with the biggest charges going to the FCM event at $2,520 and conferences and travel, which was four times his allowed budget of $500 and spent on items such as the B.C. Mayor’s Caucus in Fort St. John and B.C. Small Business Awards in Vancouver.

Council has a total of $118,000 available to spend, up from $75,000 previously, and budgets banked for each politician.

No councillors have topped their total budgets, but Pratt, Hong, Gord Fuller, Ian Thorpe and Bill Bestwick have exceeded the amounts spent in the whole of 2015.

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