City councillors’ latest quarterly expense reports came to the council table Monday, with few significant changes from the previous expense reports.
Coun. Diane Brennan, who had already exceeded her budget halfway through 2017, was $4,000 over budget for the year as of Sept. 30, according to a report presented at a City of Nanaimo finance and audit committee meeting last month.
Brennan’s expenses for the first nine months of 2017 are $15,599 compared to her annual budget of $11,500. More than half of that is legal fees totalling $7,958, a figure unchanged from three months prior.
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Mayor Bill McKay is the other member of council to exceed budget, spending $13,635 of a $13,000 budget. He expensed $2,621 in legal fees during the first nine months of 2017.
Coun. Ian Thorpe had the third-highest expenses three-quarters of the way through the year at $8,288. Coun. Gord Fuller had the lowest expenses at $1,573.
Other councillors and their expenses: Jim Kipp, $5,552; Jerry Hong, $4,485; Bill Bestwick, $4,118; Bill Yoachim, $3,276; Sheryl Armstrong, $2,892.
Brennan said her legal fees came after councillors asked her to get a legal opinion when they perceived she might be biased on an issue.
“I was right in the first place that I was not biased…” she said. “I’ve always thought that that legal opinion should be charged to council and not individually to me, but that was not the finance department’s call, so that’s where it sits, with me appearing to be sort of a profligate spender when in fact that was at their behest.”
She said if legal fees were subtracted, she would expect to end 2017 within her expense budget.
Several councillors had expenses related to attending annual conferences put on by associations such as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. During question period Monday, councillors were asked about their decisions to attend or nor to attend conferences.
“The first two years, I think I was criticized for being one of the highest spenders; now I’m being criticized as being one of the lowest spenders,” said Hong. “As a new councillor, I had to learn in my first two years, so I took everything I could that was offered to me to the availability of my time.”
Yoachim said he feels there are a lot of other ways to learn beyond local government conferences and suggested his full-time job as executive director of Kwumut Lelum Child and Family Services presents many such opportunities.
“For someone to … grill me on the courses and my learning curve is absolutely absurd,” he said.
Armstrong said councillors have varying work commitments and availability.
“I myself don’t work, so I’m fortunate enough that I can attend the UBCM and all the other things and I take advantage of all that, especially as a newly elected councillor,” she said.
Brennan said attending FCM and UBCM is “what conscientious councillors do” and said it isn’t only about education, but also about developing a municipal position on issues to take forward to other levels of government.