ARICHAT: Council was unable to amend a municipal travel expense policy which is a source of confusion for municipal officials.
During its regular monthly meeting on November 27, councillors defeated a motion from district 4 councillor Gilbert Boucher to remove the time limit for the submission of travel expense claims. Deputy Warden Jason MacLean did not vote, declaring a conflict.
District 2 councillor Alvin Martell voted against the motion because he said the forensic auditors and the Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman were satisfied with the 30-day time limit.
“To me, what they wanted to do [November 27] was to change the policy and remove that altogether,” Martell said. “To me that would have been removing one of the safety barriers of doing the right thing for the people…
“… If we start changing the policy again to go back to the old ways, is the ombudsman going to re-open the file on Richmond County?”
Over the last few months, Martell said the municipality has allowed for a 60-day period and have a pre-approval policy in which the CAO’s executive assistant sends municipal officials confirmation they have been registered to attend an event. Martell said the municipality also requires a copy of the agenda from any meetings or conferences, as well as receipts for any expenses.
Martell acknowledged that he was told he violated the policy despite receiving confirmation from the municipality that he was booked to attend an event.
“I automatically assumed that that was approval,” Martell said.
“The other night, Warden Marchand in the committee-of-the-whole meeting brought up the fact that as far as he’s concerned, that’s not pre-approval. What he didn’t say is that I sent him three requests for three different functions and he never even responded to me. I had to get permission from the CAO.”
During the meeting, Warden Brian Marchand explained that some people have been compensated for travel expenses, but some have not received any reimbursement, and others have not been granted pre-approval and violated the policy.
Marchand noted that three changes made to the policy still haven’t fixed the problems.
Interim Chief Administrative Officer Louis Digout stressed that no one claimed expenses that didn’t occur.
For his part, Martell added that he supports increased accountability, and like Marchand, wants the problem fixed.
“I have no problem following policy, just explain to me exactly what the finance department wants,” he stated.
“I don’t want to see a change to the policy. The policy has been worked on by a group with people-at-large for months and the policy is in place, and all we need to do is follow it.”