Directors pushed pause on an attempt by Columbia Shuswap Regional District staff to introduce policies on expense accountability and giving grants prior to elections.
Jodi Kooistra, manager of financial services, brought forward a policy to amend travel and expense reimbursement for staff and directors and a second that would prevent directors from giving grants in aid in the three months prior to a municipal election.
Kooistra told directors at the July 17 board meeting in Salmon Arm that the travel and expense policy was adopted in 1981 and has not been amended since.
“There are currently no guidelines that set limits on meal expenditures, room upgrades or partner programs,” she said. “We have been paying out previously on the basis of submitted receipts, but there was a lack of consistency in how we process expense claims within the organization.”
Kooistra explained that some submitted receipts have shown total amounts, but no itemized details of the expense.
“Policy F-14 provides guidelines for consistency and accountability when travelling on regional district business, representing the regional district or attending conferences, seminars and other training opportunities,” wrote Kooistra in her report. “It is essential to have a clear and concise policy supported by sound procedures that clearly define the authority to attend, the permitted expenses, the payment limits and the reporting requirements.”
CSRD board chair David Raven supported the report, speaking to both policies immediately following the meeting.
“Over the past several years, it has become apparent that the regional district needs to clarify and revisit their policies around expenses and grants in aid to ensure they’re consistent, fair and transparent,” he said. “In the case of the expense claims, the issues in the Senate and other levels of government provide a lesson that our expense claims must be reasonable and administered within defined policies.”
He said prior to the last municipal election, the board of the day wanted a clearer policy on grants in aid that would prevent what could be perceived as electioneering.
“It’s the same with expenses; if one director claims questionable expenses, it brings the whole board into disrepute,” Raven said. “Our opinion of the Senate, and all the honourable members that sit in it, has been tainted by the actions of a couple of people. I don’t want that on my watch.”
While they didn’t say they opposed the policies, electoral area directors clearly did not have an appetite to endorse the amendments in the public meeting.
Area D Falkland/Silver Creek/Ranchero director René Talbot and area F North Shuswap director Larry Morgan asked that the policy be deferred, with Morgan saying it affects electoral area directors and needs examination and “sorting out” before getting approval.
Despite Golden Mayor Christina Benty’s observation that the policy is “pretty standard” for other municipalities and organizations, Area C South Shuswap director Paul Demenok supported Talbot and Morgan’s suggestion to defer the policy to the Electoral Area Directors (EAD) meeting.
“I applaud your move, Jodi; we shouldn’t have let this sit around so much since 1981,” he said. “But I support bringing it up at the EAD meeting for a robust discussion.”
This did not sit well with chief administrative officer Charles Hamilton, who questioned taking a policy issue that belongs before the board to a committee that has no role in creating policy.
“While I respect it may impact electoral area directors more, we did a lot of work on this and the problem is, we saw some serious, serious issues with our current policy,” he said. “By deferring this, is the flawed policy going to be in place until a new policy is adopted, or is it going to fall on the chair and administrator to decide what will and will not be approved?”
Hamilton said his recommendation would be to pass the policy, let the EAD directors have their discussion and then amend it at the board level if needed.
Benty then suggested the discussion take place at the board meeting. But the EAD directors were not of a mind to do that and the majority of the directors voted to defer the matter.
Following the meeting, Salmon Arm Coun. Debbie Cannon voiced her opposition to the deferral.
“It was clearly an old policy from the ’80s and we need to look after the dollars better – and we have to have limits on what expenses can be,” she said, expressing her belief that, like Salmon Arm councillors, CSRD directors’ remuneration and expenses should be posted on the regional district’s website where it can be accessed by members of the public. “I totally stand behind Charles and the policy finance brought forward. I don’t think there is a need for it to go to the area directors. I don’t understand why we couldn’t discuss it …”
Area E Rural Sicamous director Rhona Martin was absent from last Thursday’s meeting, but the other rural directors were basically of the same voice on the need for further discussion at the Aug. 7 Electoral Area Directors meeting.
“Although it does pertain to board and staff, it has great impact on area directors and I think it requires some clarification and further discussion,” said Area B Rural Revelstoke director Loni Parker, following the meeting. “We’re having our EAD meeting in August; it’s not like it’s gonna be held up for any length of time, given that it’s so outdated.”
Morgan said he just needs to better understand the policy.
“I just got the material a week ago in the agenda package and was surprised at the direction of the policy,” he said. “I felt I needed an opportunity to meet with other directors before approving it at the board level.”
“The feeling was the policies were really electoral area director-related and the process should have these policies go through the directors before being ratified by the board,” added Area C South Shuswap director Paul Demenok.
Talbot called the expense policy too vague on a number of points and wanted to make sure the regional district policy is in line with other districts and municipalities.
“What they brought to the board was, ‘this is what we want to do,’ with nothing to show comparisons,” Talbot said. “I agree that we have to be accountable, but let’s make sure we are in line with others.”
Talbot, Demenok and Morgan expressed similar concerns about amending the policy on handing out grants prior to elections.
“It is an electoral area director program and we did not yet get a chance to discuss it at the meeting before it came to the board,” said Demenok.
Talbot added that some mechanism should be in place in case a group has an emergency and needs a grant in aid during the three-months prior to an election.
“We don’t need to do this right away; it’s not a big deal, the directors are not going anywhere,” he said. “And it’s not a big deal for directors to discuss this and come back to the board in August.”