Charlottetown Mayor Philip Brown is responding to new questions about spending at a 2019 conference by saying municipal staff are reviewing policies and procedures "so that the city's internal processes are transparent and accountable – full stop."
Brown made the comment in a written statement provided to CBC News after the Canadian Taxpayers Federation released expense documents related to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Quebec City three years ago.
Among other things, the documents show that a dinner for 15 people at a Quebec City steakhouse cost Charlottetown taxpayers $1,810.
The tab from Le Beffroi, charged to the credit card of city events development officer Wayne Long, included $459 in charges for alcohol.
A city spokesperson confirmed that the "mayor's dinner" traditionally held at the annual conference was attended by some spouses as well as city councillors and staff.
"This dinner was certainly a special circumstance but there should be limits to these," Brown's statement said.
"I can tell you that going forward, the previous experience will no longer serve as the precedent."
CBC News reported in July 2019 that the city's total tab for the Quebec City conference came to $43,993.22 — up from the $24,599 spent to send Charlottetown delegates to the same conference in Halifax the year before.
Watchdog raises questions
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation obtained the detailed expense documents through a freedom of information request.
They show that Brown attended the conference along with seven city councillors and two staff members. Councillors Bob Doiron and Julie McCabe had been registered to go but ended up not attending.
Renaud Brossard, the interim Atlantic director of the taxpayers watchdog, pointed out that Charlottetown's expense policy does not allow alcohol costs to be expensed by councillors or staff.
"And yet we've got 11 beers, four bottles of wine, one glass of wine, three cocktails and I think 20 ounces of liquor that the taxpayers had to pay for this meal."
Alcohol allowed at CAO's discretion
The city spokesperson said the city's chief administrative officer can use discretion to allow alcohol to be expensed "if it falls within the guidelines set out in the city's Procurement Policy."
The Charlottetown CAO at the time these expenses were approved was Peter Kelly, whom council fired in mid-May, to be replaced on an interim basis by Donna Waddell.
"Since the Interim CAO took office, administration has been working to prepare options that will review and strengthen our policies, procedures and by-laws so this will not happen again," Brown said in the statement sent to CBC News on Friday.
"The Interim CAO's recommendations will be presented to Council in the coming weeks, and I look forward to this being addressed in short order."
Use of per diems questioned
Brossard also found fault with the fact that councillors charged the city for full per-diem amounts even though the conference fee of $1,000 a person included breakfasts, lunches and snacks.
Per diems are amounts that can be charged back to your employer to cover the cost of meals you have to pay for while travelling for work reasons.
In 2019, the amount was $150 a day for the mayor and $125 for councillors.
"What we're looking for really is either a proper explanation by the city as to why this was done," said Brossard, adding that the extra sums should be paid back if policies were breached.
The city spokesperson says per-diem allowances are not paid out for staff members if their meals are being provided as part of event registration fees, but councillors are allowed to claim them.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities represents 2,000 Canadian local governments of all sizes, and its annual conference includes training sessions and speakers related to municipal governance.
Its 2022 conference is being held in Regina from June 2-5.
This year, the city is sending just five people: two councillors and three staff members.
The City of Charlottetown Remuneration Bylaw can be found here.