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Monday, May 7, 2012

The mayor’s accounting

Some weeks ago, when councillors’ expenses were under scrutiny, a request was made at Finance and Administration Committee (FAC) to have a report on the mayor’s expenses with the same level of detail. That report is on the agenda for Monday’s meeting.

But first the preface.

In case the committee is surprised about how much additional spending the London taxpayer is being required to assume, Mayor Fontana puts the report in context. He points out that:

previous Mayors have hired full time Executive Assistants, on contract, who have held backgrounds in communications. I, on the other hand, have chosen to contract an Executive Assistant with extensive constituency experience and, to complement her skill set, engage the services of a communications professional on an ad hoc basis. I have also taken new steps to engage the public through the implementation of virtual town halls, as well as developing and maintaining a web presence by the Mayor.

Then comes the actual accounting.

According to the report, despite the fact that council approved that the mayor be entitled to additional expenses of $30,000 per year over that of previous incumbents, Fontana actually billed the taxpayers for well in excess of that. 

It’s hard to get a handle on the exact figures. According to the report, taxpayers paid $32,852.31 to a professional consultant for “Meetings, Virtual Town Halls, Speaking Notes, Media Releases, Speech Research, Correspondence, Articles for Publication, Mayor’s Economic Council Preparations, Order of Canada, Letters, Communications Resource, Writing, Media Invitations, Prime Web Video Stream Events.”

What that suggests is that none of these services were being provided by his permanent in-house political staff or through the corporation. Speaking notes? Speech research? Media invitations? Media releases?

Why would basic functions of our government and its highest elected office be contracted out?
From time to time while I was on the Board of Control I would be asked to talk at some event or other. Some of the requests required background research and speaking notes. I found our professional staff already on the public payroll to be an excellent resource. They knew the issues and how to put them together. Fast.  Why would one have an outside agency do that?

Then comes the second part of the report.

For Purchased Services, the taxpayers were billed $25,520.88. Whether this is an additional expense or if there is some overlap with the previous category is hard to tell. This category includes $5,638.30 for “communications for the mayor’s state of the city address” last year. The payment is to the same communications consultant as in the above category. In fact, almost all the expenses related to Purchased Services seem to relate to the mayor’s address at this annual function.

But here’s the interesting part. That event is handled by the Chamber of Commerce. It hosts the event, people buy tickets to attend, and the mayor is the guest speaker. The Chamber contracts the venue (the Convention Centre), sells the tickets and pockets the profits. It is wildly successful each and every year.

So why, in 2011 did the mayor spend nearly $6,000 on the Convention Centre when it should have been paid for by the Chamber? And why would there need to be additional expenses amounting to more than $1,000 for audiovisual support? The $800 for buttons proclaiming “I’m on Team London”, while not exactly great value, at least are comprehensible, but an additional more than $8000 for video services for the mayor’s breakfast does seem excessive.

In all, the cost to the taxpayers for the mayor’s breakfast comes in at about $21,000 plus the cost of the tickets that are billed to the city through councillors’ expenses accounts.

In the context of an actual budget, it’s not a lot of money. But this is a mayor who ran on keeping expenses down, cutting out the frills, bringing in tax freezes. He even talked about not accepting a salary for the job. Now, he’s recommending pay increases and asking for more money for expenses.

The items that he details come up to nearly $60,000, almost twice what was passed by council. And not a penny of it to the China trip, as near as I can tell. That’s left to the corporate budget and London Economic Development Corporation.

It’s time to ask if Londoners are getting value for money.

Check his website, separate from that of the city. Is it providing crucial information that Londoners need or is it simply a vehicle to be retained for the next election? Is his state of the city address worth $21,000? And what about the $3,500 for the Mayor’s Economic Council meetings away from city hall? What’s become of the report that came out of those meetings?

It’s a far cry from the projections made by the mayor last October when asked to justify his request for the additional $30,000. At that time he suggested that he needed an additional $12,000 for communications, not $32,000. He mentioned $5,000 for an international trade mission, but it appears someone else picked up the tab for that.And since the mayor's breakfast had already occurred many months earlier, surely he could have included some estimates for that.

These were, of course, ballpark figures. But one would expect closer approximations of expenditures from someone who is promising both unprecedented fiscal restraint and economic prosperity.

Local politics is different from federal or provincial politics. There aren’t big salaries or big expense accounts. We don’t pay $16 for a glass of orange juice.

Londoners elected the current mayor and council on the basis of their records and their promises, to be accountable and prudent. They expect them to practice what they preach.

Starting with the mayor.

Note:I'm taking stock of my priorities and will be taking some time off to devote to gardening. You'll be hearing from me next week. Have a good one!


Anonymous said...

In a way this reminds me of 2004. He has a way with figures and I don't mean womanizing. In any election the candidate has a spending limit and if he exceeds that, he is supposed to be disqualified. If your team is creative, numbers can be fudged and explained away......and you can win for all the people to lose at a huge expense.

Solid Gold Casino said...

ENRON-style accounting, surely.

Anonymous said...

The Chamber of Commerce isn't The City of London. Though they provided the venue for the mayor's breakfast they mayn't have been willing to share their multi-media presentation materials. I can understand the mayor wanting independant coverage and think the price is fair for a professional audio-visual recording team.
It seems to me if The Chamber of Commerce cares about The City of London's finances they'd share with us, so we didn't have to do without or hire our own, and have a menu rolled up and tied with a ribbon as a memento of the occassion.

Anonymous said...

Joe is very good at spending other people's money. And he will bend the rules as far as they go. And he will engage mouth before brain is in gear. Next question?

Anonymous said...

Entitlement with a capital L(iberal). Nothing changes. Joe is still has the attitude of a a federal politician with no regard to who pays

A taxpayer said...

I saw the Arva carpetbagger on TV tonight, totally unrepentant and insulting. Does the B.S. ever end?

No, Fontana, you're not worth it!

Anonymous said...

As "anonymous" said above, JoFo is still expecting his Liberal-style entitlements. This sounds like old politics from an old politician: let's hope we'll have a champion to defeat him in 2014!