Is it in the public interest for the head of any municipal government to have a slush fund of nearly a million dollars? That’s debatable.
Is it in the public interest if the largest part of that money goes to “political salaries.” Probably not. It is important to remember that the money paying those salaries is public money, from taxpayers.
This is an issue that should get some attention in the time remaining until the October 22, 2018 civic elections.
In Vancouver the two dominant political parties rely on unlimited political donations to win elections, mostly from the development industry and unions. We don’t know who the officials are meeting throughout the year. Legislation does not require reporting of political contributions received during three years of the four-year election cycle. (The Mayor’s political party’s has an annual budget estimated at half a million dollars.) The City has no lobbyist registry. It has a weak protection for whistleblowers. The overall system is rife with corruption risks. Big changes are needed. And they are not likely to come from those who currently benefit.
Thanks to some sleuthing by the Vancouver Courier‘s Mike Howell (@Howellings), the public has some insight into the mayor’s ‘discretionary’ budget (which could also be considered to be a “slush fund”) of nearly a million dollars. Below are some of the points provided in the 11-April-2017 article by Mr. Howell. His article actually focused on the salaries of City Council, which we include here for posterity.
Vancouver city councillors earn six figures in 2016: Mayor’s budget included $689,118 spent on ‘political salaries’
(by Mike Howell, Vancouver Courier, 11-Apr-2017)
See full article here: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/vancouver-city-councillors-earn-six-figures-in-2016-1.14910579
Photo caption in article: Vancouver city councillors got a huge boost in pay last year but still earn less than their counterparts in Winnipeg and Ottawa.
- Based on City Council’s 2016 remuneration report (see 11-Apr-2017 council agenda), Mayor Gregor Robertson’s local expenses, travel and conference costs last year totalled $34,226.
- On top of that, he has a “discretionary” budget. The report says that the mayor spent a whopping $783,090 out of his allotted $1 million. Howell asks “what the heck did he spend all that cash on?” And at deadline, he was still trying to determine where the money went after examining the mayor’s expenses for 2016 on the city website. He wrote that it is tedious work to go through item after item. Upon further inquiry, staff in the mayor’s office who sent him more information on the breakdown of expenses, showing that mayor actually spent $985,273 in 2016.
- Howell went with $985,273 and learned the bulk of the spending ($689,118) went to “political salaries.” Another $106,314 was spent on “consultant services,” $77,676 went to “fringe benefit and salary accruals,” $47,517 paid for “discretionary travel and training expenses” and $19,736 for “office supplies and services.”
- Quote: “I put all those categories in quotes because I didn’t get a chance to have someone from city hall give me examples or more detail. Anyway, you get the picture — the mayor spends a big chunk of cash on staff dedicated to the Vision Vancouver agenda.”
- Howell goes on to point out that all but one city councillor “joined the 100K club,” earning over $100,000 a year.
- Howell wrote an article in March 2016 when the mayor and councillors gave themselves a raise, mentioning that Council approved a pay increase of $8,968 in 2016 to top up their annual salaries to $80,029, plus a “one-time payment” of $8,968 to cover their past year on the job in 2016, plus another $3,048 every year to cover extended health benefits they don’t receive, plus an additional $6,000 to hire a person or people to help them with their workload.
- He goes on to point out that “some councillors work harder than others, but don’t necessarily take home more money,” and delves into additional income they receive from Metro Vancouver.