Richmond council debates new travel expense policy

Richmond council debates new travel expense policy

Richmond County council continues to grapple with rules around travel expense claims, after a scandal in 2016 that prompted an RCMP investigation and a damning report from the Nova Scotia ombudsman.

No charges were laid, but the inappropriate spending of tens of thousands of dollars were part of a "culture of entitlement," according to the ombudsman.

In April 2017, new policies were put in place, and further amendments were made the following September.

A 12-member policy committee that included councillors, administrators and three members from the community was also formed to make any necessary revisions or refinements to the policies.

When the committee presented its recommendations to council at its regular monthly meeting Monday, there was disagreement over some of the wording and provisions for out-of-town travel.

The committee recommended that all travel claims by councillors be approved by the warden and the chief administrative officer, and that the warden's travel be approved by the CAO.

Warden Brian Marchand disagreed with that and argued against it.

'The CAO is an employee of council'

"The CAO is an employee of council," he said. "You tell me where in this world that the supervisor or the boss will ask the employees where they can and can't go."

Marchand said he has no problem with getting approval for information sessions and courses outside of the county, but not for regular committee meetings.

"Every month you are having three or four out-of-county meetings, and you always got to continue to ask. And if you forget to ask you are not getting paid for that," he said. "It could be a meeting in Sydney, could be a meeting in Whycocomagh, could be a meeting in Baddeck."

Marchand also wanted a change in the policy wording that said employees were entitled to meal expenses to include councillors and members-at-large.

Amendments defeated

Marchand's amendments were defeated by the other councillors at the meeting.

Deputy warden James Goyetche said he objected to the changes because they went against what the committee had recommended.

"I can't see the purpose of having a policy committee that all the councillors are on, plus you have members at large, plus you have directors and staff on it," he said. "And then regular council defeats it. I can't see the logic behind it."

He said it was a discredit to the hard work of the committee.​