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OPINION: City of Nanimo purchase card statements should be released regularly

Financial transparency needed following years of turbulence

Ever since the current group of city councillors were sworn into office last year, they, along with staff, have made a point of focusing on the future.

After all, it wasn’t that long ago where the local media was regularly reporting all kinds of inappropriate behaviour by city councillors and staff. Some of that behaviour had to do with abuse of city-issued purchase cards, which, after relentless work by the local media, revealed that a few senior managers racked up thousands of dollars in personal expenses on them.

One of the changes that came following the whole saga was that the city no longer permits the chief financial officer and the chief administrative officer, to sign off on each other’s purchase cards.

Another change is that council must now sign off on the chief administrative officer’s purchases, which should have always been required.

But those changes don’t go far enough.

The city should be required to publish all senior managers’ purchase card statements on its website on either a monthly, quarterly or yearly basis. Had this been a policy, we likely wouldn’t have seen personal airfare and a veterinary bill. If card holders knew their statements were going to be made public at some point, they would likely think twice about using them.

A few months ago Jake Rudolph, the current city manager, told me that because there was so much “hoopla” around the subject of purchase cards during the previous council’s time in office, staff used them far less. Isn’t that a good thing?

After being asked whether he felt the city’s purchase card policy needed to be changed further to prevent the past from repeating itself someday, Rudolph also told me the whole issue was overblown and that it was just a few “former employees” who had issues with their purchase cards and that everything is working the way it should.

But was it really overblown? I would argue it wasn’t. Let’s not forget, Tracy Samra, former chief administrative officer, racked up $25,362 on her purchase card during a 22-month period. While all except $3,200 was work-related, those personal expenses included an infamous $153 expense at the Clinic for Cats. Then there was Victor Mema, the city’s former chief financial officer, who ended up spending thousands of dollars on personal items, such as hotels and flights and then was forced to pay the city back, which he did. And they weren’t the only ones to use their purchase cards for personal expenses.

It took many in the media months to obtain purchase card statements, which were sometimes redacted, to ultimately expose repeated financial misconduct by city employees.

It shouldn’t have.

Residents have every right to know how the city spends their money. We’re allowed to view a list of names detailing all employees who earn over $75,000 at the city and we’re given this data without hassle once a year, every year. Why can’t the same be done for purchase card statements?

If council and staff really want to show the community that they care about transparency and moving the city forward in a positive direction, then they should require purchase card statements to be made public.

After all, it is the public’s money and we have a right to know how it is being spent. 
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