Rhino's Ramblings - Business, Big Mac and a Birthday Cake
By Robert Thomas Opinion/Commentary
It is one of the big questions I have been hearing and that is what is the end game with all of the Freedom of Information (FOI) requests what is this all about?
It is all about getting to the bottom of things and by doing that holding people accountable and exposing the truth for the Public and then let them decide if it is acceptable or totally out of line.
But it is more than that.
It is also when you find out things are working as they are suppose to should you not also publish that as well?
I may have my opinion on the subject but it should not be the only opinion and in many cases the opinons of others should take precedence.
As part of our goal of providing a bit of in-depth coverage and looking into the internal workings of Moose Jaw City Hall MJ Independent has used a tool called an FOI to request documents in more than one story or column we have published.
We have had some great results with documents being freely handed over while at other times sadly we have not.
In those cases where we have not been afforded access or what we believed to be sufficient access we have requested a review from the Freedom Of Information and Privacy Commissioner Office and we have won based upon our concerns the FOI request was not handled properly upon an extensive months long independent review.
In an effort to keep our elected officials accountable and focusing upon an issue mentioned on more than one occasion - the growing number of credit cards used by the City of Moose Jaw. The numbers have grown from a handful to now by all reports to close to 60 active City credit cards issued to city employees and elected officials.
We have requested and received the credit card statements and the charge statements for all meals and drink purchased by Mayor Fraser Tolmie since he took office.
We have reviewed them and then sent over extensive questions about them to Mayor Tolmie and he has graciously responded.
It needs to be noted NONE OF THE MAYOR’S PURCHASES VIOLATED ANY POLICY NOR ARE THERE ANY APPARENT BREACHES OF THE ETHICAL BYLAW.
Additionally when asked about one item purchased on the card Mayor Tolmie provided a plausible explaination about its purchase and the oversight was repaid.
A potential question which could be asked here is how did this one item get by? And is it a flaw within the system? If it is a flaw how do you fix it?
It needs to be noted that Mayor Tolmie at this past Monday’s meeeting of Executive Committee did say the media are to help keep elected officials accountable and once something is pointed out there is an opportunity to rectify the situation. This is what has happened and we applaud His Worship for recognizing the oversight and immediately correcting the situation.
We have also questioned others in the community and on Council about some of those expenditures and over the next 10 days have a series of stories coming out about the Mayor’s credit card spending habits.
Is there a major scandal there? No, but there are expenditures which might have a couple of people curling their eyebrows about while others might say it is no big deal.
We leave it up to the reader decide if the policies - or their non-existance - regarding the use of City of Moose Jaw credit card by elected officials is warranted or there needs to be a change to policies affecting our elected officials.
Through reviewing the restaurant purchases for example we discovered Mayor Tolmie pays gratuities at a rate of 20 percent. We also could find no City policy when it came to elected officials and paying gratuities.
Is paying gratuities by Mayor Tolmie with your hard earned tax dollars a good thing or a bad thing? With the need to find every available dollar for core infrastructure repair or replacement should the Mayor be tipping with your dime at all? Or is it acceptable the City pay gratuities because restaurants now have a tipping out policy?
Tipping out is where servers must pay a certain percentage of everything they serve to a fund to provide gratuities to all other staff. By not paying a gratuity the server can actually lose money on a meal.
Should there be a set amount and or percentage for tips? And if so how much?
Or should the Mayor buy candy at Halloween and Christmas for City Hall on taxpayer or should that come out of his own pocket? There are two schools of thought we found on this one
Or if Mayor Tolmie is meeting with potential investors or government ministers should we buy alcohol as part of the meal? Or should there be a policy against buying alcohol for any function or as gifts? There is a prohibition for employees and should this not also apply to elected officials as well although they are not City of Moose Jaw employees?
And if you ban the purchase of alcohol do you cripple the Mayor's ability to promote the City?
Have the restaurant meetings with potential investors paid off? If so is there any real concern here?
Do you put a limit on the types of alcoholic beverages and the amount which can be spent?
Is the amount of alcohol purchased a large amount? No it is not so does that make it acceptable or not?
The credit card receipts do additionally give more information if you read beteween the lines as they are detailed about the purchases and who the Mayor is meeting with.
For instance in preparation for a meeting with Canadian Protein Innovations (CPI) Mayor Tolmie's credit card statements shows the purchase of non-alcoholic champagne as well as a purchase from the Saskatchewan Liquor Board Store.
The question is was the champagne purchased for a big announcement that never happened? Did the deal die at that meeting or was there another reason for the purchase?
Another issue is should Mayor Tolmie be using his one third tax free salary to buy incidentals such as coffee just before departing for media interviews in Regina?
It should be noted the one-third tax free allowance was eliminated this past January and the Mayor and councillors received more money to make up for the loss.
These are some potential questions and concerns which might be asked and perhaps they are not big concerns or perhaps the City needs some rules and guidelines.
The decision is not for MJ Independent to make but we hope to create some conversations on these and other issues.