December 11, 2013

Council denies money for mayor's China trip

As published in The Erin Advocate

Council voted 3-2 last week to deny “per diem” payments of $130 per day to Mayor Lou Maieron for his 10-day trip to China in May.

The trade tour of various cities to meet government officials and business people was done with several other Ontario mayors, organized by the Canada China Investment Association.

While he had been chosen for the trip early last spring, he did not actually decide to go until May 1, since taking 10 days off from his farm business at the busiest time of the year was a serious concern. When he announced to council that he was going, neither he or other councillors mentioned per diems.

Officially, Town policy says members must get advance approval from council for per diems, but Maieron said this policy has never been enforced on any councillor this term, and asked why the remuneration policy “only applies to me and this conference?”

Councillors are allowed to attend two conferences per year, with no need to ask permission, and the costs plus per diems are normally processed through expense reports without a council vote.

There is a traditional verbal understanding that they not be out-of-province events, said Councillor John Brennan, the only one to vote with the mayor on this matter. Councillor Barb Tocher said this is part of the personnel policy, and she opposed the payment for that reason, though the mayor said that applies only to staff.

“To me, it is the County that goes outside of the province,” she said.

Councillor Deb Callaghan said she was opposed because of the short notice the mayor provided to them. Councillor Josie Wintersinger said she was opposed because she felt the mayor gave them the impression the trip would cost the Town nothing, though the mayor denies this.

“I think you are right and you are entitled,” said Brennan, but his motion to make the $1,300 payment and review the policy on out-of-province events was defeated.

Maieron said the Municipal Act gives him the mandate as Erin’s chief executive officer to “promote the municipality locally, nationally and internationally”.

He had an assurance from previous CAO Frank Miele, who helped arrange the trip, that per diems would apply. Current CAO Kathryn Ironmonger said she had been uncertain about this, since it is not part of her normal duties, but said she never said they would apply.

Finance Director Sharon Marshall said no CAO has the authority to approve per diems, and she assured Maieron, “We are not picking on you – any unusual items are brought to council.”

The mayor said he only had $317 in Town expenses last year, compared to $2,800 to $5,289 for other councillors. He has attended two conferences in three years, including the China trip. Wellington County covered his costs for both, including flight and visa expenses for China (after some debate). Local Chinese governments paid for accommodations and meals.

The mayor presented a half-hour slide show on the trip at a recent meeting.

“My belief was that I did a good trip on behalf of the municipality,” he said in a letter included with the council agenda. “I have already had the president of the Bank of China (Canadian division) visit Erin and took him and others for a tour of the Town.

“I am working with the Chinese Consul General office in Toronto to arrange in the spring of 2014 an agricultural tour of Erin, Wellington County and the University of Guelph as this could really promote our region’s agriculture products in China - Ontario's 2nd largest trading partner. So I am trying to get good value from this trade conference trip.”