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Council expense policy to be scrutinized

Rules may not have been broken, but they should be clearer, councillor says

The will of the people has moved city politicians to action.

After months of intense public pressure and auditor scrutiny, the city’s audit and operational review committee is set to launch a comprehensive review of council’s expense policy.

“Well, (public interest) is part of it,” said Regional Councillor Gino Rosati, committee chair. “It’s also time and it’s also due.

“And given all those questions being raised and given fresh information on the mayor’s audit, which some of the recommendations are general in nature, we have to kind of look at those, look at the auditors’ report and look at the senior management expenses and look at our own.”

The recommendations contained in the recent audit report of Mayor Linda Jackson’s 2007 office expenses include taking steps to tighten city policies related to alcohol consumption at business meetings and attendance of spouses at city functions, among other things.

Rosati is asking city internal auditor Michael Tupchong to consider that advice as he undertakes the review.

After Tupchong reports back in the fall, it would be up to members of the audit and operational review committee and ultimately to council to act on his findings, Rosati said.

“We’re going to be looking at other municipalities — how do they do it?” he said. “We’re going to be looking at the private sector. . . . The purpose of looking at what others do is not to copy them but hopefully to learn something and maybe borrow a page or two.

“I want to be able to implement that policy starting fresh in the new year.”

Rosati has asked that the review focus on the council expense allowance, which he said should be treated like mileage claims: allowed as a monthly flat fee or reimbursed under an updated procedure. The council expense allowance has remained on the books virtually unchanged since the mid 1980s, he said.

Also in need of review, Rosati said, are policies on cellphone use, mileage compensation and 407 bills, and the city’s definition of official business.

“If I decided to go to this event and I’ve not been invited to represent the city, . . . my first reaction would be that is not official business of the city,” he said. “And if I choose to go, . . . I am going there for my own benefit, not for the city’s benefit.

“I’m going there because people will see me there, because I need votes in the next election,” he added with a laugh. “Let’s be blunt about it. Come on, that’s the way it is.”

Renovations and office furniture purchases for councillors’ offices are also up for review, Rosati said.

The City of Vaughan Citizens’ Group, headed by local political activist Richard Lorello, has looked into expenses rung up by Regional Councillor Joyce Frustaglio in recent years to refurbish her office.

In a letter to council dated June 27, Lorello, a vocal critic of Frustaglio, outlined several purchases for and renovations to the regional councillor’s office that he said were not “in the interest of Vaughan taxpayers”.

Rosati said Lorello’s letter included valid concerns, but he added he was “pretty sure” no rules were broken.

“But then the perception is a different thing,” Rosati said. “Why do you need a big-screen TV or why do you need such luxury furniture?

“So we have to tie up the rules there, too. For instance, . . . anything we buy as members of council, I think it should go through purchasing . . . to make sure I’m following the rules.”

The request for a review of council’s expense policy comes on the heels of an internal audit into expenses by the city’s senior management. The audit found the current policy works, but there’s room for improvement.

Vaughan Today
In print: July 10, 2009, page 8
Online: July 11, 2009 [link]