News

Highlights of regional expenses debate

By Grant LaFleche, The Standard

Niagara Regional Council debates a motion.

Niagara Regional Council debates a motion.

On Thursday, regional council was consumed with a nearly four-hour debate on councillor expense claims. Here are some of the highlights.

Censure motion to nowhere:

Niagara Falls Coun. Selina Volpatti put forward a motion to censure three councillors subject to integrity commissioner investigations that resulted in legal costs to the Region: St. Catharines Couns. Brian Heit, Kelly Edgar and Andy Petrowski.

However, other councillors, including Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn, pointed out that Heit and Edgar were sued by a Niagara resident in the course of their council duties and their legal fees are being paid by the Region. Petrowski, on the other hand, sued most of council to block the release of the integrity commissioner’s reports and billed the Region for his personal legal fees.

Edgar, enraged that he could be censured for being sued, stormed out of the council chambers.

Volpatti’s motion was withdrawn.

The councillor who could not be named:

During most of the discussion about the $44,571 payout to Petrowski, most councillors and staff refused to use Petrowski’s name, resulting in a strange rhetorical standoff.

For most of the meeting, Petrowski was referred to as “a councillor” or “one councillor.” At one point, regional clerk Laura Bubanko said a motion amendment put forward by Augustyn to censure just Petrowski — who Augustyn did not name — was not proper unless the councillor being censured was identified. Augustyn wouldn’t name Petrowski, and asked acting corporate services commissioner Jason Burgess to do it.

Burgess didn’t name him either.

Finally, St. Catharines Coun. Tim Rigby put an end to the issue and named Petrowski.

In the end, Augustyn’s amendment died when Volpatti’s motion was withdrawn.

On the road again:

Fort Erie Coun. Sandy Annunziata repeated his defence of billing taxpayers thousand of dollars to appear on a Toronto radio talk show. He invited all councillors to make the drive to Toronto to appear on the show as Niagara representatives. There was no discussion on how much that would end up costing taxpayers.

History bites:

During the debate to make councillor expense claims public, and have them posted on the Region’s website, Port Colborne Coun. David Barrick put forward an amendment requiring the publication of expenses of past councillors going back to 1997.

Several councillors questioned why Barrick chose 1997 as a cutoff date. Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekop asked why Barrick did not ask that the records from the entire 47-year history of council be posted online. Barrick insisted on 1997 several times, saying it was an issue of transparency, but did not say why he didn’t want records from further back in time.

The argument proved to be moot.

Regional staff informed Barrick that financial records for councillors are only kept for seven years and then they are destroyed under a long-standing regional policy, meaning the records he wanted posted no longer exist.

Barrick insisted that a “reasonable search” for the destroyed records be made, saying it would be “shameful and hypocritical” to only post records from this term of council.

His motion was defeated.