"Tough times call for tight spending" Quesnel Coun. Thapar strikes back with facts & figures

PHOTO: GARY SCHOTEL

[Editor's Note: The following letter was received from Coun. Sushil Thapar of the City of Quesnel. Mr. Thapar has been in the local news lately in Quesnel because of his position on city council as finance chair. Being in that portfolio Coun. Thapar is naturally privy to the financial goings on of council and found himself in the unenviable position of having to scrutinize the spending habits of some council members who appear to be going over their alloted budgets as well as living high on the hog when out of the city on council business.

Such revelations have not gone unnoticed by the Mayor, Mary Sjostrom as well as other council members associated with this current tempest who have been named in other media outlets in Quesnel. The repercussions of Coun. Thapar's transparency have been volatile to say the least with allegations flying back and forth like ping pong balls. Thapar's latest letter is a vindication of the many accusations made by Coun. Roodenburg in her letter to the Quesnel Cariboo Observer of July 15, 2011.

 

Dear Editor:

Re: Travel budget has no bearing on censure, Observer Feedback section, July 15, 2011.

Further clarification is required concerning the many comments of Councillor Roodenburg, some misleading and others I believe are  simply false.

Contrary to Roodenburg statements I was censured for asking questions publicly and it started with Roodenburg’s over-budget travel expense account.

I simply asked acting administrator, Jack Marsh why it was approved. I also asked a question of Ken Coombs regarding West Fraser Timber Park and the $18,000 as I could not recall what it was approved for.

My last concern was the Freedom of Information bill of $262 I received from the city, which I brought up at a regular council meeting. Roodenburg has a travel budget of $4,000 which she is supposed to manage and live within. It is her responsibility to decide which functions are important and to prioritize how her allotted budget is spent.

Clearly council members cannot attend every function. Her travel expenses for 2010 were actually $5639.91 (these figures were taken from cheque listings and VISA statements.)

As for it being stated city council had enough unspent budget money from other council members to cover her own financial indiscretions I would ask Roodenburg to show where in the city’s policies one councillor can transfer their unspent allowance to other council members?

Where has it been done prior to your request?

The budget is set high and just because only 63 per cent was spent does not mean councillors can spend more taxpayers’ money than their allotted $4,000.

Roodenburg’s statement I went to the media first with these concerns is false as is evidenced by the Feb. 11, 2011 front page article in the Observer headlined “Roodenburg defends overspending on travel budget.”

Further to these allegations I never stated Roodenburg stayed in a $300 a night hotel, however there was one booked for her and paid October 16, 2010 by the city VISA for $312.50 for attending the UBCM conference in 2011.

(After my questioning of this expense the expensive rooms were cancelled March 5, 2011).

Why this councillor did not file her expense claim for an event held in September, until Dec 2010 is unknown.

I would also add to this the fact a similar room was booked for me as well without my prior knowledge and I cancelled it Nov. 17, 2010 as I had a room booked for $171.35 (taxes included).

It also needs to be pointed out I did not say Marsh personally paid for Roodenburg’s expenses.

What I said was that it was a legislative item and should have come back to council for approval.

One of the most serious and misleading statements in Roodenburg’s July 15 letter was that the motion of censure was passed unanimously.

What the councillor failed to add was who actually attended this council meeting and the fact that it was an “in camera” meeting and  councillors are not permitted to publicly discuss anything that goes on in camera.

The simple truth is both Coun. Ron Paull and I were not in attendance at the meeting where Mayor Sjostrom and the councillors present chose to discredit with a censure motion.

As such the public does deserve to know the motion to censure was not debated and passed at a regular council meeting. Such circumventions of the democratic process leads to the type of confusion we are now seeing.

With respect to Coun. Roodenburg’s query as to why I was bringing up expenses from 2006, as finance chair for the city I requested some expenses from as far back as 2005 as they show a pattern as to what expenses have been claimed in the past.

For example then Coun. Sjostrom, attended one event, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) in St. John, NS and charged the city $1,589.87.

Then mayor, Nate Bello, attended the same event and charged $1253.56 for a difference of $336.31. As finance chair I wondered why.

Further explanation is also necessary regarding Roodenburg’s comment about there being over 40 requests made by myself and such a volume is onerous and a waste of taxpayer’s money.

In actual fact I have only made 9 requests for information.

But after months and months of waiting I found I had to keep repeating the same request over and over again due to the fact the requested information was not and still is not forthcoming.

This is why the number of requests seemed to increase so dramatically. Included in these requests was one relating to cheques written to Sjostrom which have not been backed up by any documentation.

Instead I have been provided with over 80 pages of duplicated information which makes me wonder who, in fact, is being wasteful.

It is quite obvious Roodenburg does not understand what the 1/3 tax free allowance she is provided with each month means or she would not have written she spent $2,000 of her own money in 2010.

This tax free allowance is to take the place of the actual expenses she incurs in the discharge of her duties in the Quesnel area.

Also I would like proof she spent $2,000 out of the $4,732.95 allowance she actually receives tax free to perform her duties.

She is paid $14,196 a year as remuneration. This tax free allowance is in place providing receipts for her out of pocket expenses as referred to in subsection 81(3) of the Income Tax Act. The same rules apply to councillor’s expenses as they do any employees.

Given all the errors and allegations in Roodenburg’s letter plus the fact Sjostrom and certain council members have chosen to censure me in the fashion they have, in addition to portraying me in the media as being irresponsible, I think it would only be fair at this stage to cite some further examples of the questionable travel expenses of the mayor but I realize this letter has already surpassed the suggested word count and so I will forego any further statements at this time.

In conclusion, I did vote against a city budget due to the ongoing tax increases instead of looking for efficiencies.

Coun. Roodenburg is misstating the whole situation. I have, and always will be, concerned about wasteful spending by city council.

When times are tough and taxes are on a continuous increase I care about our taxpayers. We need to stop the excessive spending of elected officials and bureaucrats.

Thank you Roodenburg for giving me the opportunity to answer your questions.

Coun. Sushil Thapar

Quesnel, B.C.