They’re Called Expenses For A Reason

Here’s my question about Toronto city councilors’ 2009 expenses that were made public this week: what the fuck is it exactly that Etobiocoke councilor Rob Ford does with his time? If he’s not out there engaging with the public (aside from the killer BBQ he throws), holding meetings, organizing community events, keeping his constituency informed about the work going on down at City Hall, what is he doing? More to the point, why is the man treated by everyone as some go-to fiscal sage, asked to pronounce upon his colleagues’ outrageous spending habits?

Look. Each councilor has a discretionary office expense budget of $53,100. It seems to be monitored fairly closely. We now know Adrian Heaps spent $423.75 to rent costumes for a kids skating party. Adam Giambrone spent over 3 grand on taxis. (Insert joke here. TTC chairman. Take The Cab. Late night trips to his girlfriends’ houses.) If we don’t want councilors spending money in this manner, let’s start demanding they eliminate this budget. Or elect candidates who will conduct their business austerely like Rob Ford. Otherwise, can we cease and desist with this yearly exercise in indignant outrage?

I know for most of us, we look at the salaries at City Hall ($99 153.60/year for a councilor plus a very nice benefit package) and wonder why they would need more money for expenses. They have staff already paid for. Why can’t they just get along like the rest of us?

Well that’s the point. Councilors aren’t like the rest of us. By the very public nature of their work, elected officials conduct meetings, hold information seminars, create a sense of community within their.. errr, communities.  The discretionary office expense budget should not be viewed by us as a councilor’s private play stash. It is the money of the people in their respective wards. To help generate a sense of attachment to the neighbourhoods in which they live.

Should councilors be expected to dig down into their pockets for that? Does it cost just $700 to do that as Rob Ford spent last year? Good questions and ones that should be posed to Rob Ford instead of the inane softballs that pass for hard hitting news that crop up every year at about this time. Let’s stop assuming that the way Ford manages his expenses is the right way. There are 43 other councilors who might not necessarily agree.

miserly submitted by Cityslikr

12 thoughts on “They’re Called Expenses For A Reason

    • Dear Bob,

      councilor [ˈkaʊnsələ]
      1. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) a variant US spelling of councillor

      While we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke try to stay true to our British spelling roots, sometimes the Amero-ccentric bias of our software applications gets the better of us.

      We will endeavor to be more vigilant in the future.

      Thank you for pointing out the error of our ways.

  1. Unfortunately, most members of City Council spend their budget in ways that will, directly or indirectly, contribute to their public profile. Since a public profile helps a member of council up for re-election, the discretionary councillor’s budget helps perpetuate council sclerosis.

    Consider this: if we want to help neighbourhoods, then maybe we should take away the councillor’s discretionary budget (anyone paid as well as our members of city council for a part-time job can afford their own taxi) and create a neighbourhood initiatives budget, which local initiatives could apply for money from. That would support local initiatives and the growth of local leadership, which might even give the members of council a run for their money at election time. It would also support the formation of neighbourhood groups to tailor services to local need, rather than trying to make one size fits all policies from 100 Queen West.

  2. John,
    there is a part of the councillors office budgets where they can “donate” money to local groups be them ratepayers, environmental, food banks, school fairs, etc.
    It doesn’t help neighbourhood start up exactly, but some councillors argue that they are giving taxpayers’ money back to the taxpayer by giving some cash to help them fight a development at the Ontario Municipal Board and so on.

  3. Cityslikr,
    as a reporter has written dozens of such articles about councillors’ office budgets, not this year though, I do think it is important to distinguish between what is a legitimate office expense or not.
    As far as I know, all the expenses that councillors submitted were allowed. But the public may not view all the expenses as “needed” .
    Counc. Adam Giambrone took $3000 worth of cabs but he also rides the TTC several times daily during the course of his work day. He doesn’t own a car. How realistic is it that he go to all his meeting (in his ward and around the city) 100 percent via transit?
    Should he expense cab rides to meet his girlfriends and expect the taxpayer to pick up the tab? No.
    People may not like that councillors have an office expense account but as you said then either elect councillors who are against using it or lobby for the city to eliminate it.
    But my guess is if the $53,100 office budget each councillor gets was reduced to zero, then city council would approve an alternative: namely these same expenses paid for from the city’s general revenues.

  4. From Edward Keenan’s piece in EYE a few years back: “Rob Ford is planning to run for mayor some day: “I’ll have a basic, common sense, easy-to-understand platform,” he begins. “The grass is gonna be cut, the litter is gonna be picked up. When you phone city hall you’re going to get an answer; you’re not going to get bounced around to 10 different departments. There’s gonna be people that are gonna be accountable down there. We’re gonna run it just like a business.” As he goes on, it starts to sound like a breathless child’s Christmas list. “We’re not going to have any fat, the roads are going to be paved, the transit system’s gonna be a well-oiled machine, and it’s going to be clean, and it’s going to be safe, and we’re going to have police and there’s going to be a police helicopter. And I’m going to bring in the Guardian Angels… And garbage is a huge issue, I think we have to incinerate our garbage.”

    The Guardian Angels? Remember them? What gets me is how many people seem to accept Ford’s logic, ie. if the city were just run like “a business”, the city’s finances would suddenly be in tip-top shape. Leaving aside the more philosophical point that the demands of running a city, much like a university, are not the same as the demands of running business, the term “like a business” actually just means cut and privatize. When Ford opposed the recent “billboard tax”, he got up on his teetering highhorse and told the arts group responsible for doing the legwork on the bill that the arts community would likely not receive the funds generated by said tax. Ford’s implication was clear: the money is better spent on fixing potholes, grasscutting, litter picking-up. What this falsely rational-utilitarian logic fails to register is how much bang-for-buck a city can get out of public art in terms of tourism, cultural capital, creative class, etc etc…Point being: if that “financial sage” and avowed non-thinker Ford were to implement his dream platform, one can almost guarantee that Toronto would be much much worse off financially.

    • Dear i hate this guy,

      Well.. We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have never been called the reverse Sue Ann Levy before. Will have to try it on for a bit, see if it fits. We’ll get back to you.

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