Now to return to the councillor profiles on the basis of their expense reports.
Ward 6 Nancy Branscombe Total expense- $6,256.48
The third lowest spender, Branscombe's expense report was a joy to read; only one page in length with 16 separate entries. Of those, four were for paying an assistant, one she's had for most of the time she has been in office. That spending accounted for a little over $4,500, leaving less than $2,000 for office supplies and a trip by VIA rail to attend a conference in Toronto which also involved hotel costs. She doesn't bill the city for maintaining a vehicle nor does she claim taxi or parking costs.
Ward-wide newsletters are a thing of the past although she continues to publish issue specific bulletins using her home printer. Hence, a large paper bill. She delivers them herself with the aid of her assistant.
Branscombe's focus is on dealing with constituent concerns quickly, usually within the same day. She credits her assistant for her ability to do so most of the time.
Branscombe has a website but it is not particularly current; she doesn't bill the city for web hosting or internet service. She has made a few humorous videos but has paid for those out of her own pocket.
Ward 7 Matt Brown Total expense-$10,071.71
The most promising rookie on council, Matt Brown's spending has been moderate, on a par with Baechler's although showing some different priorities, with becoming established in his ward assuming greater prominence. An educator with the Thames Valley Board, his time is valuable. To make the most of it, he uses contract assistance which accounts for over one-third of his overall spending.
Brown spent $1350 on sponsorships for a variety of golf tournaments and other activities in support of organizations in his community: MADD, the Hyde Park Santa Claus Parade, the local Optimist Club, Canada Day celebrations. He also spent just over $650 for tickets to various community events.
The other major area of spending is the purchase of an iPad and its accoutrements. He maintains a very professional looking website which incurs web hosting charges. It includes a News section which provides a listing of articles in London Community News. He also maintains a Twitter account and has a presence on Facebook.
He holds townhall meetings at a very modest cost and spends about $250 for gifts and souvenirs.
His travel costs are low, generally limited to out of pocket parking costs. He does not bill the taxpayer for fuel or maintenance of his vehicle.
Ward 8 Paul Hubert Total expense- $7,920.36
Sponsorships for community projects and organizations, tickets to community events, and souvenir and gifts are among the main ways in which Paul Hubert engages with his community. Like Matt Brown, he supports golf tournaments, Canada Day events and the Santa Claus Parade. He also sponsored the Hyde Park Business Association, a summer festival organized by the Glen Cairn Community Resource Centre, and the London Multicultural Community Association (at the request of Sandy White); he co-hosted a prayer breakfast with Bud Polhill. The souvenirs and gifts he purchases are used predominately for donating to local nonprofit organizations to assist with their fundraising efforts.
website which he uses to keep in touch with his constituents. To become more proficient in managing it, he underwent technical training. He uses Survey Monkey, an online opinion polling program, to get feedback on contentious issues facing council. It was the subject of much derision at the Harmony Grand Buffet last year but it has increased public awareness of budget matters and allowed public input into the discussion. He also purchased an iPad last year.
Hubert used to produce a hard copy newsletter for his ward but found that the costs of production and distribution outweighed any benefit to the community. Electronic communications seem to fit the bill in his ward.
Hubert does little advertising and his spending on travel, including fuel for his vehicle, was under $120 last year. He did attend a rather expensive conference—almost $900—on the Creative Economy. It's unfortunate that the Fontana 8 did not take such commitment and preparation into account when they refused to appoint him to the Investment and Economic Prosperity Committee later that year, preferring instead to approve Dale Henderson, Paul VanMeerbergen, Joe Swan and Stephen Orser to be the leading economic lights of council
Ward 9 Dale Henderson- Total expense- $14,571.12
What can I say that hasn't already been said?
First, I need to disclose my own situation. I am a resident of ward 9 and Henderson beat me by a couple of hundred votes in the 2010 election. He ran on a “business” platform and lower taxes. He portrayed me as a big tax and spend candidate. Quite unfairly, I believe.
Henderson sees himself as an ideas guy, someone who can set the town on its ear. His big problem, as he sees it, is that the media is not carrying his message properly. He needs to be able to communicate directly with his constituents. To that end, he has invested in setting up a website and his own channel on YouTube. He calls it DaleTV. He has 9 or 10 episodes, each lasting 10 to 20 minutes, in which he rants about media, politics, economy, etc. The monologues are fairly free form although he does have a piece of paper with some points written on it.
The price tag for this was high: over $2,000 for a website with nothing on it but the YouTube channel. Additionally, he bought a lot of fancy equipment to film and produce his videos—about $5,600—for a total cost of nearly $8,000. When asked about what would happen to the equipment when he was no longer in office, he speculated that he would be keeping it.
For comparison, I created this blog at no cost. It's a free service. I have a camera that can easily take videos and my computer has a built in camcorder. I haven't done any videos of myself since I assume my followers are able to read, but I doubt it can be all that difficult since most third graders seem to be able to do it.
When Branscombe raised the issue at the Corporate Services Committee last week, there were a number of responses. Most took a hands off approach. Branscombe was furious. She thought the taxpayers ought to be outraged. Almost $8,000 on a series of rants that didn't deal with ward issues and didn't even allow for feedback from viewers. If councillors couldn't use common sense, perhaps they should review the criteria or cut back the funds.
Henderson is unrepentant. He thinks his ponderings and grandstanding are breaking important new ground.
Ultimately, as Joe Swan argued, it will be up to the voters in Ward 9 to determine whether they are getting good value for money. But one can only hope that Henderson's future spending will be on script writers. As it is, his musings and pontificating lack coherence and consistency. You be the judge.
The remainder of Henderson's expenses are interesting too. Over $4,000 for car expenses, not surprising since he doesn't live in London. $500 for a Youth for Christ banquet. A ticket to the Stratford Festival. A couple of out of town conferences. Some office paper and printer ink. Despite his complaints about the heavy workload, he did not engage a contract assistant to give him some help.
Ward 10 Paul VanMeerbergen Total expense- $209.17
As you would expect from the total listed, Paul VanMeerbergen's report is a very short one, only seven entries: three tickets, one of which was for the aforementioned prayer breakfast; an ad in a promotion for a school play; some refreshments and small sponsorships.
He also doesn't charge the taxpayers for use of his car. Whether that's because he doesn't use it to engage in ward business or because he absorbs the cost himself is difficult to tell. In any case, his parsimonious approach is in keeping with his ideological bent. He is consistent.
I want to end this post with a question. I have difficulty with using city money for religious purposes. It strikes me as a violation of the separation of church and state. If councillors want to go to a prayer meeting, fine. But taxpayers shouldn't be asked to pick up the tab. Similarly, if Henderson wants to donate to Youth for Christ, he should do so out of his own pay cheque, not the citizen's pocket. On the other hand, churches are important community organizations fulfilling many social functions.
What do you think?