The Cost Of Attracting Business
Editor’s Note - The following is a third in a series of stories looking into the expenses or more specifically the credit card purchases by Mayor Fraser Tolmie.
MJ Independent is taking no sides in this but the series was written to help hold our elected officials accountable, create a respectable public discusson as well as highlight concerns raised about the growing number of City of Moose Jaw credit cards.
Keeping with MJ Independent’s policy of publishing the good, the bad and the ugly in this article we are publishing the Mayor’s credit card expenses to secure the largest land deal in the City’s history. We leave it up to the reader to decide whether it is a good or a bad thing.
By Robert Thomas
Recently Mayor Tolmie released good economic news about the new Southeast Industrial Area with the largest land deal in the history of Moose Jaw. In that land deal the City sold 780 acres of land at $10,000 per acre plus development costs of $49,600 per acre to Carpere Canada. The land cost would remain constant for the next 10 years.
Carpere Canada would purchase the land and find tenants to set up agri-business processing in the new Southeast Industrial Area.
In his credit card purchases behind the scenes details are revealed on some of what it took to secure the blockbuster deal.
In late January 2019 Mayor Tolmie travelled to Richmond, BC to help secure the deal.
Meals (breakfasts) purchased on the Mayor’s credit card at the River Rock Hotel cost taxpayers $20.95 and $23.95.
In January the Mayor’s credit card statement show three purchases of alcohol for gifts for the Chinese investors. The purchases were for $100.02, $25 and $50.01. There were additional purchases made in the form of tote bags as gifts for the Chinese investors of $155.40, $38.85 as well as $88.80.
In his response to the written questions from MJ Independent Mayor Tolmie stated he did not break any policy or breach any ethical guidelines in the purchase of the wine as a gift for the Chinese investors.
“I am not an employee of the city but an elected official, who was elected on a mandate to positively promote the City of Moose Jaw, raise its profile and attract new economic development and jobs. I am given a budget to cover expenses and in 3 years, I have never exceeded that budget."
Regarding the gifting of wine from Prairie Bee Meadery the Mayor stated it was a good thing.
“In gifting a bottle of Prairie Bee Meadery wine to investors in our city, a local business and our local economic development environment was promoted. That is a good thing,” Mayor Tolmie wrote.
A City employee, speaking under a guarantee of anomynity as they feared repercussions for speaking out, said although the wine may have helped with promoting the City that it is a double standard.
“Wow. That sounds like bs to me. To me if he’s being paid by the city he should be considered a city employee and the same code of conduct should apply,” the City employee said.
Under the City of Moose Jaw’s Employee Code of Conduct Policy dated August 2017 there are guidelines set out for the giving and receiving of gifts as well as expressedly excluding the purchase of alcohol. In that policy there is in Section 5 (e) Gifts And Favours a prohibition of giving or receiving alcohol as a gift.
As part of the policy which applies to employees of the City of Moose Jaw but not the elected officials the policy states the following “…Employees are allowed to give and accept meals, refreshment and promotional items (excluding alcohol or alcoholic beverages) as long as they are modest in nature and provided in the course of business discussions.”
It needs to be re-iterated at the present time there are no policies in place regarding the gifting of alcohol by elected city officials, gratutities or a dollar amount gratuity limit.
Before heading off to Richmond BC in late January 2019 the Mayor’s credit card receipts show the Chinese investors had earlier visited what was then called the Friendly City.
As part of that visit Mayor Tolmie paid for dinner for City officials and the Chinese investors.
At that dinner the Mayor’s credit card recorded an expenditure of $1,162.26. It is the largest expenditure applied to the Mayor’s credit card obtained through the FOI request this series of stories is based upon.
The total combined cost of the meal and drinks was $968.55 with $305 spent on alcoholic beverages that the 10 percent Saskatchewan Liquor Control Tax (LCT) applies to or just under one-third of the total puchase.
As with all of Mayor Tolmie’s purchases at the Grant Hall Hotel there is a standard 20 percent gratuity applied - an amount there is no written policy on. In this case the tip for the server was $193.71.
In an effort to better understand the inner workings of the Mayor’s office MJ Independent approached former Moose Jaw mayor Deb Higgins to see how the office is financially structured. We did not ask her her opinion on the Mayor’s expense account purchases nor would Higgins provide one.
“Why would the Mayor pick up the tab for Chinese investors? Should fall under Economic development,” former Mayor Deb Higgins wrote when asked if it was standard procedure for the Mayor to pay for dinners for prospective major investors.
It should be noted by Higgins comment there are likely to be other expenditures to woo the Chinese investors to Moose Jaw most likely in the Economic Development Department. It also should be noted Councillor Brian Swanson has been consistently asking at Council when the next meeeting of the Economic Development Commission will be held as it has been over a year since their last meeting.
In order to get a feel for the local business community’s take and response for the $1,100 dinner paid by the Mayor’s office for the Chinese investors MJ Independent approached two local business owners who are ardent Fraser Tolmie supporters and asked them for their opinions.
Neither would comment unless we withheld their names but when we promised them anomynity both commented. Their comments were opposite in many ways to each other.
“You know it takes money to make money Robert and if it costs a few bucks to get them here then it is worth it. We need to get things moving again in this city. So if it is a few seed dollars to grow more and get things going I don’t care,” was one business owner’s take.
The other business owner said he did not care about the meal, although it was a little bit pricey but said alcohol in his opinion should “not be part of business dealings.”
It needs to be noted in his reponses to MJ Independent the Mayor stressed he consistently watched his expenses and “in each case no rules were broken, there was nothing excessive or inappropriate. And there never will be.
NEXT - How Small Spending On The Moose Wars Helped Tourism
SEE RELATED- Part One Mayor’s Cake Paid For As An Oversight. Part Two Councillor Follows The Rules At The SUMA Convention Column Column Rhino’s Ramblings