Thapar prepared to be open and honest

Quesnel Cariboo Observer

§  Letter to the editor: Coun. Sushil Thapar is not the problem

Published: August 03, 2012 9:00 AM
Updated:
August 03, 2012 9:35 AM

 

Editor:

How unfortunate that council yet again has chastised Coun. Sushil Thapar for speaking out.

Yes, he should, and has, apologized for his disrespectful language towards other councillors and the mayor.

However, he is the only one that is prepared to be open and transparent with the taxpayers who pay their allowances and expect honesty and fiscal responsibility, which I feel seems to be sadly lacking at the present time.

I can clearly recall when this mayor was herself on council and was disruptive and disrespectful towards Mayor Nate Bello.

What goes around, comes around.

Whatever one’s own beliefs and opinions, Bello was always willing to enter into open and interested discussion.

He never demanded that everyone agree with him.

Nor do I recall a time when he made any unprofessional comments concerning other members of council to city staff, which I was certainly subjected to by this mayor during my time at City Hall.

This council should realize that without disagreement, no change or growth is possible.

They should also be better prepared for council meetings, which might mean reading the agenda prior to Monday and even raising questions beforehand with staff concerned, so they have a better understanding of the issues.

I sincerely hope that rather than isolating Thapar, they make more of an effort to understand what he is trying to do, and be willing to provide the taxpayers with more information and answers as to how they are spending the taxes they raise.

It should not be necessary to continually obtain this information only through Freedom of Information requests.

They should also be prepared as individuals to stand up for what is right for the organization and for the community.

That is what they were elected to do.

Meriel Wild
Quesnel

Enough is enough

By Contributed - Quesnel Cariboo Observer
Published:
August 01, 2012 4:00 PM
Updated:
August 01, 2012 4:44 PM

Editor:

A male councillor, a female community person (partner, wife of a councillor) and now another community person.

This attacking our city’s mayor has gone beyond a “saga”, it’s become a “comic book” and all you are accomplishing is making yourselves and Quesnel look childish and ridiculous.

Accusations of “he said” “she said” and your personal feelings are cruel and unjust.

As a community, we all have the opportunity to vote. Obviously Quesnel’s mayor had such support as she was voted in not once, but twice. Others in our community were also in the race for mayor – they did not have the support or the votes as I don’t see them sitting in the mayor’s chair.

Simple solution to the ugly situation: lay out your proof of illegal wrongdoing and ask for or demand a resignation.

If you do not have any concrete proof, shut up and wait for the next voting period. Put these excessive energies into something helpful, useful and much needed in Quesnel: a dialysis unit, which would service many kidney patients in our community who are finding themselves less and less able to travel the highway to Prince George for their weekly dialysis treatments.

Have a nice day,

Carol Sawry
Quesnel

Please move on

By Contributed - Quesnel Cariboo Observer
Published:
August 01, 2012 4:00 PM
Updated:
August 01, 2012 4:43 PM

Editor:

Re: Coun. Suhsil Thapr is not the problem, July 25, Feedback, Observer.

I found Mr. Wayne’s recent letter most insulting, not necessarily to me, but to the elected officials on council.

He makes a statement that Coun. Thapar is “the one councilor truly involved in his job.”

Is he implying that the citizens of Quesnel elected a bunch of do nothings?

He implies that all of council except for Thapar are a bunch of sheep being coerced and bullied by this Svengali Mayor Mary.

Mr. Wayne, get your head out of wherever you have it buried. To suggest that the likes of Coun. Ed Colemen, Coun. Laurey-Anne Roodenburg, et al could be made to do things against their better judgment is ludicrous.

Thapar appears to not accept answers he doesn’t like or answers Pat Morton doesn’t like most likely but the rest of the elected officials do so. Move on.

Mike Wright
Quesnel

Coun. Sushil Thapar is not the problem

By Contributed - Quesnel Cariboo Observer
Published:
July 24, 2012 1:00 PM
Updated:
July 24, 2012 1:58 PM

Editor:

I am deeply upset over city council’s censuring of Coun. Sushil Thapar. What I see is a man of utmost integrity and when dealing with a continually resistant mayor whose answers never give the answer, then the man’s only resort is to use his tenacity and his passion to try and safeguard the citizens of Quesnel’s taxpaying dollars from flying out the door of city hall.

Coun. Thapar is always only concerned with the people of Quesnel and their financial security in this town.

He is not so much combative or disruptive as he is the one councillor truly involved in his job, discussing, debating and challenging the decisions made. He is so in line with the going-ons of the outflow of money from city hall.

He excels in representing the people of Quesnel and their money completely. He is also the one councillor who truly questions the mayor. How upstanding of him! He is not upstaging the mayor when he works at getting to the bottom of the matter.

Coun. Thapar questions Mayor Sjostrom to get the answers and when she avoids him and resists his questions, it is she herself who is creating a councillor’s reaction she dislikes.

Her avoidance has created this entire hullabaloo in the first place.

My advice to the mayor is to quit ignoring this very important councillor and stop using the so-called privacy issues as your place to hide when you know very well the money matters of the city are the citizen’s right to know and you are at the liberty to disclose and discuss.

At city council meeting, July 16, the mayor looked directly into the Shaw Television camera and said “there is no cover up,” if so Mayor Sjostrom, then prove it in true honesty.

Instead, it seems the mayor will probably continue to be resistant, take legal defense if necessary and cost the citizens of Quesnel more and more money, adding to the debt load.

For those of us who follow city politics, we do understand that most of the councillors are new and highly inexperienced and will need to follow the mayor’s instruction, training guidelines and guidance, but discontentment can come from your own hearts and minds and not from following her directorship blindly. At the meeting, a councillor said we are all individuals.

Then I say, be individuals, instead of how it appears – puppets in Mary’s show.

I am just saying it appears that way and I know appearance could be deceiving.

As an observer, it seems council members are binding together like scared little children where Mayor Mary is the hirer and firer and life and death to their jobs.

Are you all, as newbies, more concerned with having a job and pay cheque than doing the job at hand and the day’s bidding?

Mary may not have voted for Sushil Thapar, but the public did.

We can trust Thapar and look to him to look after our well-being over any of the others to this point.

It’s my opinion the mayor acts like a big city mayor, mayor Sjostrom is a small town mayor with a small town’s budget.

This is an exceptional little town and those of us who call it home love it here and we, like the outlying areas, rely on Quesnel to be fiscally strong.

We must live within our means. We are told over and over that forestry is going to continually downturn, so it seems wise to me that fiscal responsibility is fiscal prudence and this includes expenses, payouts, salaries and benefits.

Tax revenue to the city will continue to drop.

At the council’s meeting on July 16, there were various groups requesting money from the city and the Director of Finance, Keri Bolton said “there is no money.”

Bravo to Ms. Bolton for telling the truth and telling it like it is.

Now then, did everybody hear that!

Have we all been so spoiled that we don’t even know how spoiled we’ve been? The problem is not Coun. Thapar, it’s the money and how we handle it and manage the money we have at hand without more and more borrowing.

Deeper in debt and what do we get, Coun. Thapar is the bad guy? It doesn’t make any “cents”.

It’s all too ludicrous. We could all benefit from taking a moment and consider the implications of debt. A day of reckoning will come and even though you may not have experienced it in your lifetime, it doesn’t mean it will never happen.

That banks will always love to lend money to your city because that’s how they make more of your money year over year in interest payments. The more money we lose in interest payments, the less money there is to give to special interest groups, non-profits and the like. Quesnel’s city council appears to be headed in this direction.

It seems the mayor doesn’t answer to anyone she doesn’t want to. Your money she seems to handle as if it was her own private account and personal business. Your city is your money and your business and the mayor is only an overseer of such funds and needs to do the right thing and explain her expenditures and be accountable to you.

Wake up town that I love. .

Without Coun. Thapar check-mating the mayor, would we be worse off? I think so.

I give a big thank you and my debt of gratitude to Coun. Thapar for doing his job so well as he does.

Perhaps the mayor could emulate him and realize how fortunate she is to have him on our council.

Only one opinion.

Robert Wayne
Quesnel

Taxpayers take notice of your elected officials

By Contributed - Quesnel Cariboo Observer
Published:
July 20, 2012 9:00 AM
Updated:
July 20, 2012 9:29 AM

Editor:

I think it is important for the taxpayers of Quesnel to know just how fiscally irresponsible most of the elected officials really are.

As you will know from the article on June 29, I was fired following a complaint against the city manager.

My stress leave was only the second time in nine plus years that I was absent on medical leave. It is also important to know that I was not the only one experiencing problems, but I was the one who was prepared to make a formal complaint.

Mayor and council were aware last June that staff were not happy and, last December because of their failure to act, we lost a much loved long term (23 year) staff member due to the difficult work conditions we were experiencing.

Although skills can be replaced, the organization cannot afford to lose its knowledge base in this way.

As there was no process to deal with my complaint, the executive committee (Mayor Sjostrom, Coun. Coleman, Coun. Roodenburg) created one, and all parties agreed to this.

All meetings were supposed to be without prejudice.

In spite of the agreement, the executive committee refused to follow their own process through to the final step – hiring an outside consultant to advise on a resolution – claiming that it would be a waste of taxpayer money.

Nevertheless, my complaint was upheld, but then I was promptly fired without notice. The city has admitted it is without just cause.

Thus, it is difficult to comprehend the executive committee’s stated concerns regarding taxpayers’ money when, in practically the same breath, it fired me without just cause and thereby exposed itself to my

claim for damages for wrongful dismissal.

As well as severance, there are also hidden costs to the organization. I was not able to leave the department in good order because I was fired without notice. My termination has left the city with the loss of my institutional knowledge and this is already creating further liabilities for the city.

I am very appreciative of the support I have received from both colleagues and taxpayers. I am pretty certain that there will be further losses to the city as more staff leave when they are able to do so, due in part to their disillusionment with Council over this issue.

The organization will suffer from the loss of this knowledge and experience, all because council has failed to put the taxpayers and the organization they are supposed to represent above their own personal agendas.

I hope through this letter that taxpayers will become more engaged, take more of an interest in how their hard earned tax dollars are being wasted and hold their elected officials accountable.

Meriel Wild
Quesnel

Try respect and integrity on for size

By Contributed - Quesnel Cariboo Observer
Published:
July 13, 2012 10:00 AM
Updated:
July 13, 2012 10:51 AM

Editor:

Re: Setting the record straight, Feedback, July 6.

I agree. I think you may be indeed be “setting a record” for the amount of attention given! Your “community” newspaper has printed this item filled with accusations, suggestions of collusion and loaded statements like the references to a “parade” of city management exiting- being “paid to leave”, a “wasteful whitewash” from the auditor etc.

And despite your policy that submissions should be 250 words or less, by my estimate, Ms. Morton’s letter was closer to 1,000 words – half a page!

Pardon me, but I think your bias is showing. Printing an editor’s note at the end of this lengthy submission indicating that Mayor Sjostrom declined comment is almost laughable. What should she comment on? A careful reading of Ms. Morton’s submission does not offer any compelling “evidence” of the serious accusations that she continues to put forward. This is what I read from the article itself:

• Ms. Morton states that she requested “a clear understanding” from the advanced rulings department of Revenue Canada on the tax-free expense allowance. (This might suggest that this is a regulation that is very open to multiple lawful interpretations.) They returned her fee, she states, because they “do not want to provide the information.” What should the Mayor comment on here?

• The fact that Gail Shea, Federal Revenue Minister referred Ms. Morton’s letter to Finance Minister Flaherty is not confirmation that the exemption has been misinterpreted or misused. If Ministers Shea or Flaherty provided Ms. Morton with the “clear understanding” that she requested, she has omitted it in her submission – I do not see it stated there. Ms. Morton states that MP Dick Harris is “clearly at odds with his government’s own finance minister!” but we don’t even know what Mr. Flaherty has said. To be fair, perhaps this is why Mayor Sjostrom declined comment.

Ms. Morton seems to suggest that some phone numbers on the phone bills provided should not have been blacked out, because anyone who knows her understands that she is “very concerned about protecting the privacy of individuals.”

While I am sure this is true, it must be said, sadly, that this is not a sufficient guarantee in the realm of governmental policy and regulations.

Governments and their agencies do not rely upon promises or personality to implement the rules fairly.

And remember your front page story about a city employee’s termination? Any public official who offers his opinion and further, makes unsubstantiated accusations about a sensitive human resource issue is violating confidentiality and is in breach of his oath.

Anyone who works in this area knows this. To deflect his irresponsibility by ridiculing other councillors for upholding this oath is even more dishonourable.

But you gave it the front page and of course, the mayor and other councillors, honouring their oath of confidentiality, declined comment.

Only a few people know all of facts here. Why should we rely upon someone who cannot honour his own oath to interpret this story?

A community newspaper can go a long way to promote respect, integrity and civility in the political discourse. I think you should try it.

Bev Haluschak
Quesnel

Setting the record

Quesnel Cariboo Observer

By Contributed - Quesnel Cariboo Observer
Published:
July 11, 2012 9:00 AM
Updated:
July 11, 2012 9:16 AM

Editor:

It is time to set the record straight! I started investigating council’s expense claims early in 2011 when then finance chair Coun.Thapar started asking questions as to how city tax dollars were being spent.

I offered to help as I knew the evidence would tell the story. What I found were claims submitted by Mayor Mary Sjostrom for expenses the one third, tax–free expense allowance was to cover.

This meant to me she was being paid twice for the same expenses. We found other travel expenses that should not have been claimed. The remainder of council did not claim reimbursement for similar types of expenses, only the mayor. My next step was to write to the rulings department of Canada Revenue Agency to obtain a clear understanding of the intent of the allowance for elected officials and in response, the rulings I received provided some insight but they were not easy enough for just anyone to understand.

I requested a clear understanding from the advanced rulings department and sent the $535 fee which was returned to me as they do not want to provide the information.

I also wrote to Federal Revenue Minister Gail Shea in July 2011, and she referred my letter to Federal Finance Minister James Flaherty, that a clear understanding needed to be provided for those providing the tax free allowance and to suggest they get rid of the tax free allowance as it is excessive. During the election, Sjostrom stated the one third tax free was just an added bonus for her job and she proclaimed publically that she was right and I was wrong in my interpretation of the tax free expense allowance. Instead of dealing with the issues, apologizing for being wrong and paying the money back she just keeps repeating that this is still an election issue.

I wrote to the Minister Shea in July 2011 (Sjostrom announced her candidacy in September and Ron Paull in October) so how could anyone but Sjostrom be blamed for making this a so-called election issue?

All of this took place months before anyone declared their candidacy to run in the election.

To misuse tax dollars to defend Sjostrom only furthers my concerns that this mayor is wasting our tax dollars to protect her personal benefit. If I am proven wrong, does the taxpayer benefit?

No. Does the city benefit? No. Does Sjostrom benefit? Yes. Too much staff time has been wasted trying to help Sjostrom justify her claims. She repeatedly refuses to show her phone bills, all paid for by taxpayers.

Those questionable phone bills are now in the hands of the Freedom of Information Commissioner as every number was blacked out on the few bills provided stating: “as this disclosure to you might be expected to threaten someone’s safety or mental or physical health.” Anyone that knows me understands I am very concerned about protecting the privacy of individuals.

The report from Ron Rasmussen at a cost of over $8,700 is a total waste of taxpayer’s money. His report passes the buck and the blame on management. Remember, it is council that directs staff... not the other way around.

Questions about the validity of expenses claimed are not answered in Rasmussen’s report, the issues are not addressed, nor does information from the Rulings Department of Canada Revenue Agency or travel expense practices of other municipalities back up Sjostrom`s claims. Rasmussen’s report is a wasteful whitewash. And MP Dick Harris’ recent defense of Sjostrom’s spending is laughable. Harris is clearly at odds with his government’s own Finance Minister! He should stay out of it, as that is like a plumber offering a legal opinion!

Further, how can Sjostrom honestly maintain that she is following “long standing” council policy when in fact the policy she refers to didn’t come into effect until March 28, 2011?

Wasn’t this new policy introduced (under the guise of a staff report) by none other than Sjostrom herself? Wasn’t this about the same time that Thapar started asking questions? Hmmm...

And, it’s not only unanswered questions about expense claims... what about the recent $170,000 buyout of rookie city manager John Steyck, who Sjostrom said resigned for “personal reasons”?

What about the parade of other city management exiting and entering her revolving door? Were they paid to leave as well?

Ask yourself this question, “Who gains by spending taxpayer dollars defending this position and who should reimburse the taxpayers?” It is not council; it is not the city; it is only Sjostrom. Election issue? Nice try... it is a credibility issue screaming out for honesty and transparency.

Pat Morton
Quesnel

Editor’s Note: Mayor Sjostrom was provided an opportunity to comment on the contents of Mrs. Morton’s letter, but declined.

 

Not supported

Published: June 18, 2012 10:00 AM
Updated:
June 18, 2012 10:48 AM

Editor:

After long and careful consideration I have had to make the difficult decision to resign my position as North Cariboo Multi-Centre Fundraising Committee Chair.

It was in March last year when Mayor Sjostrom requested that the public step forward to help them (elected officials) work “outside of the box” and to look at different ways of raising funds for this wonderful and much needed project. So I, along with several other members of the public, stepped forward. On June 6, 2011 we had our first meeting.

Since that time our committee has worked hard to put the pieces in place to be successful in completing our task.

One of the major components of the fundraising has been to approach all the smaller, local businesses to try and get their voluntary financial support.

To do this we requested numerous times for the Quesnel and Community Economic Development Corporation and Mayor Sjostrom’s assistance in developing that part of the plan and in reaching out to those businesses for their support. Over the past year of these requests, Quesnel and Community Economic Development has promised over and over again their assistance with this matter but no assistance, guidance or any support whatsoever has come forward.

As chair of the committee I attempted on several occasions to ask the mayor for her help regarding this matter but did not even receive a reply to my phone messages and e-mails.

I, also as chair, tried on two separate occasions to arrange meetings with some of the local businesses who are the strongest supporters of this project, just to be told by the mayor and Economic Development Corp. that “our committee should just stick to raffles and bake sales and leave the rest to us.”

At committee meetings volunteers have endured derogatory and insulting jokes made by the general manager of community services about the work being carried out by those volunteers. All of this has left me unable to feel any confidence in the plan as was presented to the Joint Planning Committee in February of this year.

Over a year has passed since the fundraising committee was struck.

It has been nice to see all the support from our local community groups and individuals through out our community and for that I am truly thankful. Despite this strong support from the residents of our community we find ourselves in a deficit position of several thousand dollars and have been unable to reach out to the entire community because of restraints put on us by our elected officials.

I can not continue to give my time as a volunteer to a process that is dysfunctional and not supported by the most senior and influential members of our local governments.

Sincerely,

Eric Wickham

Astonished at severance pay

By Contributed - Quesnel Cariboo Observer
Published:
May 16, 2012 8:00 AM
Updated:
May 16, 2012 8:40 AM

Editor:

Re: Coun. Thapar seeks mayor resignation, Observer online.

I am astonished that severance pay is a confidential issue even though the information can be obtained under Freedom of information Act. As a taxpayer, we have the right to know how our money is being used by the city. I am wondering what they would have done to an ordinary citizen if he did the same things as what Mr. Thapar did.

Let me remind you Councillors, the people of Quesnel have a right to know.

Rajeev Kansal

Move on

By Contributed - Quesnel Cariboo Observer
Published:
May 16, 2012 8:00 AM
Updated:
May 16, 2012 8:38 AM

Editor:

It is time you all grow up and get in the “real world.”

When dealing with staff, things are not always what they seem. I myself have no idea why Mr. Stecyk is no longer employed by the city but having dealt with similar situations in the past I will throw out a scenario. All hypothetical.

• The city was not happy with Mr. Stecyk’s performance. To outright fire him would probably lead to a long legal battle that neither side would want and which would cost taxpayers a lot of money

• Mr. Stecyk’s lawyer wants his client’s reputation to be intact.

• City council, not the mayor, on advice from their legal advisor work out a proposal that will sever Mr. Stecyk’s employment with the lowest possible cost to taxpayers.

• Mr. Stecyk, on advice from his lawyer agrees to the terms on the condition that the final documentation shows he resigned for personal reasons and all terms be confidential.

• The Mayor and council agree and the deal is done.

Editor, I am not sure this was the scenario but having been involved along with your father while in public service I know this has happened in the past. Is it the ideal situation? Probably not. But I believe it is in the best interest of the taxpaying public. Let’s hope council now gets on with business.

Mike Wright
Quesnel

Why?

Published: May 15, 2012 10:00 AM
Updated:
May 15, 2012 10:28 AM

Editor:

Why is there so much controversy over the city manager “resigning”?

Is this council so afraid to take responsibility for an error in judgment?

Is council’s action going to mean a large impact on our tax dollar that is not been budgeted for?

Why is everything held in camera?

Is the taxpaying public not allowed to know how

those we elected are governing our city?

There is an old saying if one protest too much, there is definitely something they’re hiding.

In this case, I believe it is a lot and council should come out and do the right thing; surely there is someone other than Councillor Thapar that has enough gumption to stand up and be honest and open about city happenings.

It is time that we taxpayers get more answers than questions from those people we elected.

R. Campbell

Quesnel

 

Letter to Editor: Ken vs Fran over Quesnel Gate issue

posted by arthrtph on Tue, 2011-10-25 10:47

October 23, 2011

Dear Editor:

In reference to the opinion expressed by Fran MacPherson in the
Quesnel Cariboo Observer dated October 14, 2011 bylined “Team Mentality Needed.” I agree with the byline heading, but respectfully disagree with some statements in her letter.

Fran states in her letter, “I am astounded at the blatant politicking on the city’s finances and spending that has been created by Councillors Thapar and Paull.” That statement in my opinion is the epitome of a misconception on Fran’s part. Councillor Thapar is trying to do the job we elected him to do. The unnecessary costs incurred and the wasted time involved would not have happened if the mayor and the city manager had not attempted to refuse the Chair of the Finance Portfolio, councillor Thapar, access to his portfolio. It was exclusively the mayor and the city manager that created and continued their efforts to prevent disclosure of travel expense abuse that are responsible for the resultant waste of time and money. It was NOT councillor Thapar or councillor Paull.

The mayor and the city manager could obviously not interpret the Freedom of Information Act exclusion section in city bylaw 1297 Appendix 1, item 75(5). A 54-word regulation any normal elementary school child could understand; so, they ordered a legal interpretation in a last desperate attempt to block councillor Thapar from getting access to his portfolio and their travel expenses. Their efforts of course failed. This vindictive action by the mayor and city manager wasted $2,892.96 for unnecessary legal costs of hard-earned taxpayer money and only further begged the question; “what have they got to hide?”

Fran further states, “After thoroughly digesting their comments and letters, I did the math and discovered that the discrepancies add up to less than 0.008 percent of the city’s annual budget.” Her discovery has no basis in fact. Councillor Thapar could not get access to his portfolio, did Fran? Surely, she did not base her calculations on the expose that councilor Paull wrote. He stated he only got through about a third of the documents that confronted him. However, let's put the 0.008 percentage rate that Fran used into perspective. Supposing Fran was assessed an annual property Tax bill of $2892.96. As outlined above, the mayor and the city manager wasted her money. Would she consider her tax payment of $2892.96 minuscule and well spent?

Finally, Fran states in part: “Certainly we need honesty, integrity and transparency, but first and foremost we need representatives who are willing to work together as a team…” I suggest that if we have honesty, integrity, and transparency by all council members then team cooperation will automatically follow.

Ken Butchard
Quesnel

Letter critical of Mayor and city manager held up by Black Press for three months!

posted by arthrtph on Sat, 2011-09-17 21:17

Letter critical of Mayor and City Manager held up by Black Press for three months!

[Editor's Note: Apparently this letter was submitted to the Quesnel Cariboo Observer on the 24th of June, 2011 and the publication of it was held back for reasons unknown. Eventually the author of it and other concerned citizens in Quesnel decided to go ahead and print the letter and along with a handout explaining why it was held up by Black Press for so long, deliver it to Quesnel residents. Being made aware of this the Observer's editor Autumn Macdonald was finally able to gain permission from those in authority to run it. All in all a rather sad day for a publication that purports to be informing the community in an open and honest way. It's but one of the reasons why Quesnel and area require an alternative voice such as the Sentinel.]

Dear Editor:

I submitted a letter to the Editor of the Quesnel Cariboo Observer that appeared in the April 27, 2011 edition that was headlined “Roadblock.” In the article, I expressed my astonishment at the ridiculous $262.00 charge Levied against the City’s Finance Portfolio holder, Councilor Sushil Thapar for requesting information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) pertinent to his portfolio. He requested information relevant to council and the city manager’s travel expense claims. In his clarifying article published June 03, 2011, in the Observer, I was pleased to read the absurd charge for doing the job we elected him to do, regarding his portfolio and our money, was expunged. I was under the impression that common sense had prevailed by the initiator(s) of this questionable type of censorship. I could not have been more mistaken.

It appeared the Mayor and the city manager had exhausted every possibility to prevent Councilor Thapar from getting information on council and the city manager’s travel expense claim(s). Wrong again. Before cancellation of the fee, the city manager with the approval of the mayor, submitted a request to the City Solicitors for a legal interpretation of the regulation that refers to fee exclusions for obtaining information under the FOI Act. City Bylaw 1297 Appendix 1, item 75(5) refers. On the radio June 22, 2011, the mayor gave her reasoning for submitting this matter for legal counsel advice due to the complexity of interpretation of the FOI Act. See if you can interpret the fifty four-word regulation the mayor and the city manager were unable too. It reads as follows:

“The power to excuse an applicant from paying all or part of a fee if, in the Head’s opinion, the applicant cannot afford the payment or for any other reason it is fair to excuse payment where the record relates to a matter of public interest, including the environment or public health or safety.”

Because the last eight words are not applicable in this case, the 54 words are reduced to 46 that require interpretation. If the spending of our tax dollars is not in the public interest, what is? If Councilor Thapar, who we elected to represent us, is disallowed access to his portfolio by the mayor and the city manager, they should be required to validate their actions with a realistic public explanation. Failing this, should they not be personally responsible for the unnecessary and outrageous waste of our money as outlined below?

The submission by the mayor and the city manager in attempting to get a legal ruling validating the absurd charge against Councilor Thapar has cost us as taxpayers a total of $2,892.96, including HST, to cancel what was an invalid charge in the first place. Look for a possible additional charge of $91.84 when the city solicitor realizes he has made a mathematical error in his breakdown of his FOI Legal fees invoice that he provided to the city manager by email dated 17 June 2011. On April 20, 2011 he spent 3.20 hours on the interpretation, April 21, 6.40 more hours, and a decision reached April 26, after three more hours of pondering.

A responsible city manager would no doubt have stipulated for interpretation, the exclusion regulation only. If so, the city solicitor seems also to have had a problem interpreting the 54 words comprising the exclusion provision. Why else would it take 13 hours of review? The obvious verdict was Councilor Thapar should not pay the $262.00 fee.

Instead of issuing a written apology to Councilor Thapar, a “Motion of Censure” was invoked against him for discussing issues relative to his portfolio with city staff. Notwithstanding, in the legal interpretation that cost us so much, there is included a sentence that states, “Under policy a Councilor can ask a staff member for information.” That information was included in the email to Councilor Thapar by the City Manager, John Stecyk May 3, 2011.

On April 26, 2011 City council unanimously voted THAT: all council and city employee travel expense claim forms be filed electronically on the City web page. It was agreed Council’s request to the Corporate Travel Policy regarding electronic filing on the City website be reviewed in 3 months time and a report be prepared related to staff time for this request.

On May 16, 2011 Director of Finance Kari Bolton outlined a “procedure she stated could be implemented with a few minor changes to current practice.” A motion with the same wording as the motion on April 26 was voted on and carried, (4-2) with councilors Oakes and Roodenburg opposed. At the same meeting Mayor Sjostrom, seconded Councilor Couldwell and resolved: THAT: effective June 1, 2011, copies of all expense claims for Council and Senior management be included in the Council Agendas (Things to do list, according to Councilor Thapar) on a six month trial basis, upon which the procedure will be reviewed. “Note reviewed.” This motion effectively prevents Councilor Thapar from disclosing the contents of the travel expense claims the mayor and the city manager have taken such costly and desperate measures to prevent until after the next election due on November 19, 2011.

In a column in The Observer by Mayor Sjostrom June 3, 2011 she made the following comment:

We’re committed to, and take pride in being an open, honest and transparent local government. If you ever have questions about the work council is doing, please contact us.

If the mayor is sincere in the statement she is reported to have made, she and the city manager should back off and allow Councilor Thapar to do the job we elected him to do. I am a concerned taxpayer and probably many other taxpayers in Quesnel are also.

Ken Butchard
Quesnel, B.C.

 

Determining if your money is spent wisely

Published: June 06, 2011 2:00 PM
Updated:
June 06, 2011 3:50 PM

Editor:

Re: Council votes to include expense reports in agenda, May 20, Observer.

I believe that clarification is necessary. The article in question reads in part as follows:

“City council agreed to include copies of all expense reports in the council agenda. The move is on a three – six month trial. Coun. Sushil Thapar was the sole member opposed.”

Notwithstanding my remarks printed as to my reason for voting against the motion, this publication may be interpreted by some readers to indicate that I voted against expense reports being subject to citizen’s review. Nothing could be further from the truth.

April 26, Coun. Ron Paull and myself moved two motions that were seconded and carried. Also, both these motions were brought forward in a regular meeting, May 3, administration report #48C/11 were carried and they are:

• THAT all council travel expense claim forms be filed electronically on the city website.

• THAT all city employees expense claim forms submitted to the City of Quesnel be filed electronically on the city website. An addendum to the motion April 26 reads as follows: “It was agreed that council’s request to the corporate travel policy regarding electronic filing on the city website be reviewed in three months time and a report be prepared related to staff time to meet the objective of these motions.”

I feel under the circumstances this is an appropriate request with ample time to achieve the objective of transparency.

What I did not agree with, was the motion put forth by Mayor Mary Sjostrom May 16 that reads as follows:

• THAT effective June 1, 2011, copies of all expense reports for council and senior management be included in council agendas (things to do list) on a six-month trial basis, upon which the procedure will be reviewed.

Why the delay? The amendment motion was not approved at a regular council meeting. I submit that a review of procedures properly put in place in the first instance will not require a review in six months.

At least two other large cities in addition to the federal government have the technological knowledge to post council and city employees travel expenses on their websites. That is the reason I voted against the mayor’s motion. Should our city administration require assistance in providing a like policy, I feel sure the cities of Toronto and Vancouver would not hesitate to provide the necessary steps to explain the technology used.

December 12, 2003, the prime minister of Canada announced a new policy on the mandatory publication of travel expenses of selected government officials.

In 2008, Toronto introduced policy recording information by councillor name, ward and category (travel, equipment, postage, etc.) www.toronto.ca/city_council/expense_reports.htm

April 27, 2011, the City of Vancouver published a notification that explains a new standard for accountability by posting council expenses online.

www.civicinfo.bc.ca/printver.asp?n=4067

My portfolios the citizens of Quesnel elected me to be responsible for are the finance portfolio and chair of the audit committee.

Efforts to obtain this information have not been successful.

Even to the extent of attempting to charge me a fee for the only option left open to me, by requesting documents through the Freedom of Information Act.

My sole purpose for pursuing this matter is to determine if the money in my portfolio, which is your money, is spent wisely.

When a portfolio holder is denied information to his or her portfolio, what is the point to having the position at all?

The April 8 edition of the Observer published my complaint at being charged a $262 fee for obtaining information pertinent to my portfolio of finance and chair of the audit committee regarding councilor travel claims. I wish to advise the many concerned people who queried me on the legitimacy of the charge – the charge was cancelled.

As always, I am open to questions. My email is thaparquesnel@gmail.com

Sushil Thapar
Councillor
Quesnel