TNRD finalizes new meals, travel policy

After contentious debate regarding conference meals, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District has approved a new board expense policy that outlines taxpayer-funded meals, travel and more.

Areas of control weakness identified by last year’s BDO Canada’s forensic audit – spurred by a KTW investigation into spending at the TNRD under former CAO Sukh Gill – included expense reimbursement processes to control spending levels. Board expenses were previously outlined each year in the board’s remuneration bylaw.

According to the new policy, directors can claim a flat meal per diem rate without receipts of $ 25 for breakfast, $ 30 for lunch and / or $ 45 for dinner when they are required to travel for a meeting, workshop, convention, seminar or other function and stay overnight. Eliminated is a $ 120 overnight per diem rate, which included meals and up to $ 36 per day in incidental expenses.

TNRD directors will be required to pay their own meal expenses and claim the expenses, rather than having TNRD staff pay on their behalf.

In the past, former TNRD CAO Sukh Gill charged meals for directors on his taxpayer-funded credit card.

Travel accommodations under the new policy will be based on a standard room and be booked at the lowest rate, with government or conference rates noted as an example. No maximum dollar figure or specifications around what kinds of hotels have been included in the policy.

Those who seek private accommodation may receive $ 50 per night with no receipt required.

Electoral area directors can expense up to $ 2,000 per year for per-kilometers for travel to and from meetings within their electoral area or for business related to their respective electoral area. Municipal directors can submit claims for travel to and from meetings directly related to business of both their municipalities and the TNRD to a maximum annual claim of $ 500. Log books will be required, including trip details.

Electoral area directors can claim up to $ 1,500 per year in communication expenses – including cellphone bills, landlines, internet services, newspaper advertisements or fliers or hardware used for communication purposes, such as a cellphone – and municipal directors can claim up to $ 750 per year. A per-kilometer travel rate is 61 cents, per a rate published by the Canada Revenue Agency.

The new policy was approved by the board on June 16.

It followed debate about whether directors should or should not be allowed to receive a per diem if they could not eat or did not like food provided at a conference or otherwise.

According to the draft policy presented, “The ‘per diem’ rate may not be claimed for any meals that are included as part of an itinerary of a meeting, seminar, conference or convention, except where the director did not partake in the meal. ”

The final clause – “except where the director did not partake in the meal” – was not the initial recommendation of TNRD staff, but came following a policy committee review, at which some directors complained about the quality of food at some events and also expressed their concern dietary needs would not be accommodated.

TNRD Area P (Rivers and the Peaks) director Mel Rothenburger, who is on the policy review committee, asked to revise the revision and referred to it as the “bagel clause.”

He said if a director thinks a bagel provided is too dry, they can instead choose to go to a restaurant and buy a better meal. He said charging the taxpayer a second time for a meal already covered through conference fees compromises reforms made at the regional district.

“I mean, suck it up,” Rothenburger said. “If you don’t like the muffin, you know, have the muffin anyway.”

Barriere Mayor Ward Stamer said he was “disappointed” and “insulted” by comments and innuendo that politicians are not responsible enough to work on behalf of taxpayers. He pointed to dietary restrictions previously mentioned by Merritt Mayor Linda Brown, who cannot eat gluten.

Kamloops Coun. Mike O’Reilly said dietary restrictions are increasingly common and requested an “override” option for individuals who are diabetic, gluten-free or face other food-related obstacles ..

TNRD CAO Scott Hildebrand said conferences typically cater to dietary needs, but noted an exception could be granted in rare circumstances when it is not.

TNRD general manager of corporate and legislative services Deanna Campbell said the policy is mirroring that of staff in order to make it clear what can and cannot be expensed.

In addition to her dietary concerns, Brown said meetings with ministers or other groups may occur during a time when meals are provided at a conference.

“It is not always the case that you have to suck it up,” Brown said. “And I, for one, having gluten allergies, I would have difficulty sucking up a muffin for breakfast.”

Ashcroft Mayor Barbara Roden said a “very interesting conversation” took place at the policy review committee meeting. She said no policy will account for every eventuality, but added she is “sickened” by perception that some directors might not like or want a taxpayer-funded sandwich with mayonnaise or a continental-style breakfast.

Area L (Grasslands) director Ken Gillis and Area A (Wells Gray Country) director Carol Schaffer complained about food quality during that policy review committee.

“I’d just like to say that I attended SILGA [Southern Interior Local Government Association conference] and the breakfasts were god-awful, ”Schaffer said, referring to the late April conference held at the Prestige Harbourfront Resort in Salmon Arm. “They were cold. They weren’t edible, as far as I’m concerned. ”

Roden said she has spoken to the director of the food bank in Ashcroft who signed up eight new people in the last two weeks.

“I would suggest that anyone who feels that the continental breakfast spread at SILGA or UBCM is not quite good enough and they’re going to go out and charge something else to the taxpayers should maybe go and talk to the people crowding our food banks for whom this would be a massive, fantastic spread, ”she said.

TNRD Area E (Bonaparte Plateau) director Sally Watson clapped loudly, interrupting Roden’s remarks.

Roden said the issue made her “uncomfortable” because there is a difference between being unable to eat something for dietary or health reasons – which she said she understands – and being unwilling to eat something.

She said she hears her mother saying: “You will eat what is put in front of you.”

Roden amended Rothenburger’s amendment in order to accommodate health and dietary reasons. Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian seconded the motion. Brown was the sole director opposed.

Cache Creek Mayor Santo Talarico was absent from the meeting.

In favor of Rothenburger’s amended amendment, eliminating director discretion and adding the health and dietary accommodations, were Clearwater mayor Merlin Blackwell, Christian, Chase director Rod Crowe, Kamloops director Dale Bass, Kamloops director Dieter Dudy, Area J (Copper Desert Country) director Ronaye Elliott, Gillis, Area N (Nicola Valley – South) director Herb Graham, Area O (Lower North Thompson) director Bill Kershaw, Area M (Nicola Valley – North) director David Laird, Kamloops director Mike O’Reilly, Lytton mayor Jan Polderman , Area B (Thompson Headwaters) director Stephen Quinn, Sun Peaks mayor Al Raine, Area I (Blue Sky Country) director Steven Rice, Roden, Rothenburger, Kamloops director Arjun Singh, Logan Lake mayor Robin Smith, Stamer, Clinton director Susan Swan, Watson and Kamloops director Denis Walsh.

Brown and Schaffer opposed.

Walsh further raised concern with the per diem rate not accommodating someone who only has a salad for dinner, for example, which he said costs between $ 15 and $ 20 – not $ 45.

“It’s too fixed, in a sense, for me,” he said.

TNRD chief financial officer Doug Rae said it is a burden for staff to accept meal receipts. He advised Walsh to claim lower per diem rates, via breakfasts or lunch per diems.

The board then voted unanimously, 25-0, to approve the board expense policy as amended.

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