© Gary Kean
Coun. Priscilla Boutcher has the floor at Monday night’s public meeting of Corner Brook city council as Mayor Neville Greeley listens.
CORNER BROOK — The only city councillor without any travel expenses claimed this year was criticized for not taking advantage of the opportunities offered to her to become a better municipal representative.
At Monday’s meeting of Corner Brook city council, Coun. Linda Chaisson was questioning whether the city’s taxpayers were getting the best bang for their buck when the issue of council travel was discussed as part of the meeting’s agenda.
Between January and June, city council claimed nearly $26,000 of the $40,000 budgeted for council to travel to conferences and other sessions designed to help them do their civic duties.
Chaisson is the only councillor to have claimed $0 in expenses. Coun. Donna Francis, who was also on the list as having $0 claimed, said she does have a claim for less than $1,000 not yet filed.
She told council that she is not opposed to council travelling to these events, but wondered if it was really necessary, for example, to spend around $13,000 to send three councillors to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference held in Vancouver in June. The city also sent chief administrative officer Mike Dolter, whose expenses were not included in the amounts discussed at the meeting.
“I know we got a report on (the conference) but, to me it’s a fine chunk of change to send people to Vancouver,” she said. “Maybe now would be the time to change policy. Maybe we don’t have to send so many people.”
Both Mayor Neville Greeley and Coun. Leo Bruce felt Chaisson may have been trying to win over the electorate in advance of next month’s municipal election.
“It’s very convenient you would bring this up tonight in the very last (televised) meeting before the election,” charged the mayor.
Bruce said he was not in favor of changing a policy that educates councillors and is for the betterment of the city. Further, Bruce said $40,000 is not too much for council travel in a budget of around $30 million.
“I think an informed councillor is a much better councillor around the table and I find it suspicious that this is coming to council tonight, this close to a municipal election,” said Bruce.
Chaisson took exception, claiming she has brought forth her concerns about council travel expenditures consistently throughout her four years on council.
“All I’m saying is can we look at some ways we can cut corners?” asked Chaisson.
No right to question
The barbs kept flying at Chaisson. Greeley and deputy mayor Donna Luther both said she had no right to question the benefits of attending these conferences if she has never been to one herself.
“I think it’s my responsibility as one of the leaders of the city of Corner Brook to be informed, to be current and to be able to bring back knowledgeable things I can put forward and get involved in,” said Luther. “We’ve done that on numerous occasions.”
Greeley said spending $15,000 for councillors to attend a municipalities conference in Toronto a couple of years ago led to the city saving $15 million on its water treatment project. Another conference in St. John’s, he noted, led to the city changing its approach to economic development.
“All the experts are saying you nurture the business you have,” said Greeley. “That old model of going out trying to attract someone to your community is dead and, the quicker we stop trying to do that, the better. We never would have known that if we hadn’t sent people out (to that conference).”
Greeley encouraged Chaisson to attend some of these conferences if she is successful in being re-elected.
“Please take an opportunity to attend one of those and your eyes will be opened,” said the mayor.