Friday, June 17, 2022

Flurry of Financial Information this week highlights need for more Council attention and public updates during the year

This has been a busy week for information sharing by the City of Prince Rupert, with the City's staffers providing for the annual review of Financial information through the SOFI report, along with the Annual Report and its opportunity for public comment at the June 27th Council Session.

The SOFI information and the Annual report are required elements under provincial legislation for the municipality to deliver on, though in the case of the SOFI report, the documentation is about as bare bones in detail as you could expect. 

The city meeting the expectations of the province, but not adding to the narrative as to how in the case of the expenses listings those amounts came to pass.

That element of missing information is something that is in the purview of the City Council members to keep watch for and seek out information for the public on. Though they rarely seem to question any of the spending in public, or provide for any information on the civic website to explain things and this weeks relay of information didn't deviate from that theme.

From this weeks notes on civic salaries for instance there are a number of senior officials or employees with some rather large expense amounts listed, yet the city does not provide for a breakdown as to what that involves, something that should be part of a more regular relay of information for the public and an area where the elected officials should be more attentive towards.

The listing of the suppliers and vendors also provides for some interesting data reveals, but with little background as to what was the nature of a purchase or service.

Some of the ones listed are easy to figure out, the near 7 million dollars for Eiffage Innovative Canada is related to the Water Dam project, while CT Northern Contractors have been the contractors of choice for a number of city projects including the work on the Waterfront development.

Others however are curious entries that might catch the attention of the public and could have used for a heads up along the way in 2022 include.

Among some of those 1.3 million for Pembina Infrastructure and Logistics LP, 2.2 Million for Broadwater Industries and in lesser amounts 161,058 for the Canadian Fishing Company, a range of legal fees for a number of firms, or even a $31,048 payment to the Organized Crime Agency of BC.

All of the expenses incurred would have some purpose and without breaking any confidential elements, the Council members could as part of a Council session ask on our behalf of their staffers what the money was for and how it was used.

Council Members do seem to have the time for such follow up, with many of the council sessions this year running less than an hour, more than a few much less in time, and often ending with few comments from the elected officials.

This being an election year, we're no doubt going to hear the traditional proclamations of a commitment to transparency and accountability from the incumbents seeking a return to office and any newcomers looking to put their name forward for the October vote.

One item that should be part of the election campaign ahead is to have a commitment from all that will seek office to provide for more information and public oversight on how the city spends its money, a spending program that continues to rise with each successive SOFI report.

Among the areas that could be better delivered on is an updated listing every few months on any expense spending by Council members and as this years review of the council remuneration shows, the last two years have seen a sharp decline in such owing to COVID. 

However,  now that we are returning to a more normal way of conducting civic business the travel and expenses files should sees me growth ahead and should be detailed for the public with a bit more detail. 

The City could get ahead of that curve with some proactive planning for better reporting and accountability that goes just beyond a lump sum amount once a year without any context as to the spending.

The same could go for those Senior Staffers who seem to be the ones who accrue the largest amounts when it comes to expenses. Obviously in their work there is a need for travel and a need for expenses, though there should be some element of accountability as to how those elements come to pass.

And as we noted in the suppliers notes above, the cost of doing business does seem to be on the rise and as elected officials the Council members are the ones who should be providing the residents of the city with the updates on the major projects, particularly when those costs jump significantly or when unusual items appear from time to time.

Beyond the opportunity for wider disclosure for the public which should be their focus, a discussion of the spending and provision for a listings related to them would show that Council is exhibiting some oversight on the many projects and spending plans that come up each year.

The goal of transparency and accountability will be like a mantra this fall prior to the election, hopefully once in office those successful at the ballot box will follow up on how they achieve those lofty goals.

More notes on the 2021 SOFI Reports and other Budget themes is available here.

A wider overview of Council Discussion themes through the year can be explored here.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, disclosure and transparency should be the default, but that is unlikely to happen with the current mayor and council during what remains of their terms of office. Their way of operating has become very entrenched over the last two terms.

    Public council meetings are, as noted, usually very short. They are not treated as opportunities to inform, discuss, and if necessary debate issues. Instead, public meetings often come across as little more than a formality.

    Although the mayor has few powers beyond that of any other council member, the office has taken on a presidential character. The mayor controls most of the information flow, but in a manner that does not encourage discussion, and celebrates real or perceived accomplishments rather than highlights problems to be discussed or choices to be made.

    Watson Island and questions like $1.3 million being paid to Pembina Infrastructure are cases in point. The city owns a logistics centre, and generally seems to see itself as a player in the private sector, but how did those decisions come about? Certainly not from discussing a business case at public meetings. A lot of things just seem to have happened without much in the way of public information or involvement.

    As for the council, the public meetings are thoroughly reported by NCR, but there seems to be a lot that the council members either know but choose not to talk about, or - perhaps more likely - they have just gone with the flow because it seemed to be a good idea at the time.