Monday, February 9, 2009

Councillors' expenses won't be online 'til March 13

Don't hold your breath


Last Updated: 9th February 2009, 4:06am

Toronto taxpayers will have to wait another month to find out how city councillors used public money put in "office budgets" late last year.

A new "councillor expense policy" enacted in July -- ostensibly to make councillor expenses more transparent -- requires they get posted on the city's website one month after each quarter.

However, for the last three months of every year, the policy stipulates expenses are posted online one month after the year-end closing date. According to Winnie Li, director of council services, the year-end closing date this year is Feb. 13 and expenses won't be made public or posted online until March 13.

The policy reads, "(t)he public has a right to know how public funds allocated to Councillors are spent," but that right must be balanced, "against the need to protect privacy and personal information, and allow time for proper accounting and reconciliation of expenses."

Councillor Rob Ford, who didn't spend a dime of taxpayers' money in the first nine months of 2008, said the delay in posting expenses "isn't right."

"Why do we have to wait three months. It looks like they're trying to hide something," he told the Sun. "If everything was above board and transparent, they would post them immediately. Once a councillor submits an expense, you put it online. It's as easy as scanning it in, and it takes two minutes to do."

When they are made public March 13, the online postings will include expenses nearly six months old -- dating to October 2008.

In the first nine months of 2008, the city's 44 councillors and Toronto Mayor David Miller spent more than $1 million of public cash collectively on office budget expenditures, which cover office travel, advertising and promotional material, printing, postage and courier costs as well as reimbursement for mileage and parking fees.

Some 2008 expenses, which are capped at $53,100 for each councillor, included a lost TTC pass, a beaver costume rental, popcorn machine rentals, and an Elvis impersonator.

The biggest spender in the first nine months of 2008 was Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, who spent $40,938.83, followed by Councillors Adam Giambrone ($36,203.93) and Ron Moeser ($35,832.14).

Ford says councillors' office budgets are nothing more than "personal expense accounts."

"It's a personal expense account," Ford said. "The most a councillor needs is $5,000."

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