Welcome to London Civic Watch

"Ever wonder if City Council is as contentious and chaotic as it is sometimes portrayed? Here you can get a progressive perspective on some of the issues from someone who spent four years in the trenches. Totally unbiased, though! Feel free to comment but keep it respectful, just like they do at council."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Spending to the limit

Who are the big spenders on council? Who gets the biggest bang for the buck?

Friday was the last day for candidates in the 2010 municipal election to file their financial statements with the city clerk. While most left it to the last few days, eventually all the winners got them in and a good thing too; failure to do so could result in a forfeit of office.

Some of the returns did have the look of a last minute effort. It much reminded me of my teaching days. On the day before the paper was due, some students would suddenly ask a question about the length expected, whether a topic not on the list might do instead, and so forth. The paper eventually turned in would be rather a hit and miss affair with pieces of information popping up in the most unexpected places.

At the same time, there would be some perfectly formatted with all the references documented, the arguments logically presented, and typed to boot. And so it is with the financial statements.

As a result of a recommendation of the Governance Task Force on which I, along with Paul Hubert, Joni Baechler, Roger Caranci and Bud Polhill, participated, the returns are now posted online where anyone can see them. Previously, they were available to the public, but you specifically had to go to the clerk’s office and ask for them.

Still, it’s not that easy to make sense of them or to generalize from them or make comparisons. The returns are scanned into a pdf file rather than a spreadsheet. Try as I might, I have not been able to work directly with the data as presented. So to analyze it means a lot of data input into a spreadsheet. It’s laborious, to say the least.  This would certainly be a good candidate for the open data project that the city has recently launched.

But I have made a start, enough to make some preliminary observations, so here goes. All observations pertain to successful ward candidates. The mayor campaigns city wide and therefore is in a separate league.

The Biggest Spenders

All the wards are fairly similar in size and have similar spending limits, about $22,000 to $23,000. The top spenders campaigned in opposite ends of the city. Topping the spending list was Councillor Bud Polhill with $23608.65. This was a thousand dollars  more than his spending limit but not all expenses were subject to the limit. Somehow, he managed to spend over $3,000 that didn’t count against the limit- accounting fees, storage of his signs for the next four years, and a big victory party. Ward 9 Councillor Dale Henderson was close behind with $21,111.27, just a few dollars short of the limit. He was, however the biggest spender if one looked only at those expenses that were subject to the legal limits.

The Frugal Ones

The lowest spender far and away was Ward 5 Councillor, Joni Baechler, with total expenses at $4974 despite the fact that she has a higher spending limit because of the size of the ward. This is interesting since a major criticism that was made of “progressives” like Baechler and myself, on the previous council, was that we were big spenders. Not so much. Second lowest, but nearly double that of Baechler, was Ward 3 Councillor Joe Swan, at $9149.22. He had jumped in at the last minute when Bernie MacDonald unexpectedly decided he had had enough. Along with Councillors VanMeerbergen, Armstrong and Usher, they were the only candidates to keep their expenses under $10,000 which saves them the expense of an audited statement.

The Best Bang for the Buck

As well as being the thriftiest candidate, Baechler also spent the least for each vote received. With a solid reputation as a hard worker and effective councillor, Baechler has little competition in a ward with a high voter turnout. Her expenses per vote? Just under 68 cents. VanMeerbergen is a distant second with a spending of $1.51 per vote received.

On the other end of the scale was Ward 14 Councillor Sandy White. Despite having significant name recognition from a previous incumbency, her win cost her $8.71 per vote in a ward vacated by Cheryl Miller. White had strong competition from Developer Jared Zaifman. Both spent big dollars on this one. White won by only a little more than a hundred votes. Next in line was Polhill at $5.75 per vote despite the fact that he had virtually no competition. I guess it’s hard to give up spending like a controller. Ward 4 Councillor Steve Orser shelled out $5.32 per vote netted. Henderson also came in over the $5 mark and Swan just under at $4.99 per vote.

So there is some of the spending side of the campaign. I haven’t had a chance to analyze what the money was spent on. That may come in a later blog.

There was one intriguing tidbit, however. VanMeerBergen included in his spending an exemption not subject to the spending limits: a very big party (almost $1200) and, under “Expenses related to candidate’s disability” another $1100 for gifts to campaign workers. Probably another case of leaving the assignment to the last minute and putting the information in the wrong place. But it is neatly typed!

Next, I’ll have a look at where they got the money. That should be interesting.

You can look at all the returns yourself on the city website.


Cynic said...

Thanks Gina. This is good to have. Part of Polhill's expenses were for radio ads. Now why would a ward candidate need radio ads? when you listened to the ads, they said Polhill a lot. When you realize there were two Polhill's running for Council and one for school board, you kinda think maybe poppa Bud helped pay for Steve and Sherri's campaigns through the back door?

j said...

The Municipal Elections Act allows our city to pass by-laws permitting the electronic filing of these documents. This would let candidates submit their financial information in a format that is easy to access and search online.

If you want a spreadsheet created with your tax dollars, then ask the city's 'accessibility' office at 'london.ca' to provide it.

If you want to create a spreadsheet, then please revisit and add a link to your 2010 election candidate financial statement spreadsheet.

If you can't make the spreadsheet yourself, then write here and hopefully the blog admin will post a request that will hopefully catch my attention. I'd do it in response to being requested: by you in my spare time or by the city in time they pay me to spend.

Anonymous said...

Good info, Gina.

Will you be analyzing the spending of Anne Marie and Grey Goose?

John McCullagh said...

Seems ironic that Dale Henderson goes on and on about wasteful spending and financial mismanagement but he is the biggest spender, spending twice as you Gina. And he spend $4000 on signs with only 41 in ending inventory?

Chris D. said...

The thing that I found the most interesting is something I knew all along. The ones that win tend to outspend their opponents. Ii am not sure what that says about our kind of democracy.