Questions still persisted after presentation but councillor declares his answers conclusive
Coun. Sam Waddington came clean about a handful of his 2017 expenses, going over the details, one by one, Tuesday in council chambers.
The city councillor was on the hot seat and had to explain expense receipts totalling $1,456.98 after a resolution of council formally demanded that he do so last month.
“While I don’t agree with how these questions were raised in this chamber, I do welcome the opportunity to speak about some of the out-of-town work that I am most proud of,” Waddington said in his tabled presentation .
Mayor Sharon Gaetz, and Coun. Chuck Stam, both advocates of fiscal restraint, put Coun. Waddington on the spot by placing his already authorized expenses under the microscope, with each filing separate freedom of information (FOI) requests for expense details about out-of-town conferences and meetings.
Last month saw a unanimous vote of council — which included Coun. Waddington — requesting information about who he was meeting met with, why he was paying for elected reps who have their own expense accounts, and what value it offered for the taxpayer.
“On August 21, Coun. Stam asked me five specific questions, which I will answer,” Coun. Waddington said during his presentation to council on Sept. 4.
The specific locations, attendees, and reasons for meetings, were all provided.
Coun. Waddington said months ago that he had no problem with full transparency and accountability, and was taken aback by his colleagues aggressively filing formal FOIs, rather than just asking him for details.
This issue has put a spotlight on Coun. Waddington, but it was only after he declared intentions to seek the mayor’s seat.
“Professional development” is how Coun. Waddington justified the breakfast meeting charges, hotel restaurant charges, and the rental of an AirBnB expenses.
These expenses were incurred while Waddington was attending national conferences, or FCM board meetings, and meeting with provincial, federal and municipal reps.
“Professional development is integral to council making informed decisions and ensuring that we are planning ahead appropriately,” Waddington said in his presentation.
He said he found it hard to believe that Coun. Stam was “startled” his expenses for the last four years totalled almost $50,000, since they are made public every year, and accordingly reported in the local press.
At no point did he breach any expense policy, Waddington underlined, and each of the claimed expenses was reviewed by staff and authorized prior to reimbursement.
“As for the additional expenses that I incurred for my work on the board of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), these expenses were pre-authorized in a resolution from council before I ran for the position,” he said.
At the last council meeting Coun. Stam took Coun. Waddington to task, with what he called “a strong and reoccurring pattern of entertaining others who have no direct benefits to provide to the City of Chilliwack.”
But Waddington countered there were advantages to picking the brains of the best and brightest.
“It is statements like this that I believe fail to recognize the importance of a collaborative approach in local government. In many cases, it is our council colleagues from across Canada who pioneer the best working solutions to issues relating to everything from public engagement, to housing, to public safety, and transportation models.”
With regard to questions about his meetings with Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer in particular, Waddington said there should never have been any questioning of the appropriateness of those meetings, since Coun. Reimer’s credentials were “beyond reproach.”
Coun. Stam thanked Coun. Waddington for what he called a “thorough presentation,” and providing clarity. He also apologized for casting any aspersions or suggesting anything was inappropriate in meetings with Coun. Reimer, noting only “that the name came up repeatedly” in the documents he FOIed.
“Nothing else was insinuated,” Stam said.
He later assured Coun. Waddington his questions were not political, adding he has “no skin” in the game since he’s not running for re-election.
“I was speaking on behalf of the taxpayer,” Stam said.
He said later there is a “rawness out there in taxpayer world, and we have to be careful.”
Mayor Sharon Gaetz said she had a couple more questions after Waddington finished, noting she had made calls to FCM about the conference timing and the hotel to check on in-room dining, and she felt Coun. Waddington still had more explaining to do about extra meetings, or travel, that had not been approved by FCM or by council.
The “luxury” AirBnB condo rental was not luxurious, he countered. It was a one-bedroom apartment that he had to rent during Grey Cup weekend because the hotels were full, and he had to borrow an iron to attend the Monday meetings.
But that didn’t satisfy the mayor.
“I do believe that $845 bill should not be paid for by the city,” said Gaetz.
The suggestion that this intense expense scrutiny might be political in nature came up more than once.
“I think that given that we have seven on council, and three around this table are running for mayor,” that there is a political element to these discussions, Waddington said. “Given that all my conduct was in the rule book, I call my answers conclusive.”
Wadding mentioned during his presentation there is good value for the taxpayer dollar in collaborating with government leaders or elected reps who are outstanding in their respective fields.
“It is often in meetings, over dinner, and at receptions that we have the opportunity to learn about these innovations.”
Local challenges from the housing crisis, and the opioid epidemic, to regional growth overwhelming transportation, and more, are complex issues, he said.
“All of the professional development for these topics is happening at the conferences I have been attending, and they are being attended by thousands of other councillors and mayors from cities from across Canada as large as Toronto with a population of over 5 million, and as small as Silverton, B.C. with a population of only 195 people,” said Waddington. “There are relevant takeaways for all of us.”
It comes down to what people want their city councillor to do, he said.
“(Attending) conferences are more than just professional development,” Waddington said. “They are often our community’s only opportunity to advocate for Chilliwack’s needs directly to provincial and federal ministers, and their staff.”
He ended his presentation with a promise.
“I hope that my explanations today have helped to inform the public about what it is I have been doing on their behalf over the last four years.
“I promise you that I am working as hard as I can on your behalf. I love this city and I am doing everything I can to make it better.”
The five expenses of Coun. Sam Waddington in question:
1. May 18, 2017, $76.34, for in-room dining breakfast and May 19, 2017, $92.03 charged for another in-room dining breakfast.
2. June 4, 2017, $145.09 at 11:57 p.m. at the Andaz in the Byward Market, Ottawa.
3. June 3, 2017, $120.01 at Ottawa Shore Club at 12:33 a.m.
4. $177.64 claimed on Nov. 22, 2017 at 12:27 a.m.
5. November 24-27, rental of Ottawa AirBnB condo $845.87.
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