Edmonton

Rimbey politicians out of touch with public: candidate

Incumbent politicians in Rimbey are facing a tough election campaign.

Incumbent politicians in Rimbey are facing a tough election campaign.

Internal financial documents have surfaced detailing hundreds of thousands of dollars of questionable spending.

Using Freedom of Information, council candidate Joe Anglin obtained nearly four years worth of expenses by councillors for the town of 2,500, about 150 kilometres southwest of Edmonton.

Documents show the acting mayor and councillors claimed expenses for attending such things as Tory party fundraisers, expensive conferences in Whistler and Toronto, even an antique truck. They also made time claims for attending town meetings and community events, such as Remembrance Day ceremonies and the Rimbey Parade.

"I think they have lost touch with the public," mayoral candidate Sheldon Ibbotson said. "We didn't know about (the spending) and if we had known about it, I am sure people in town would have complained. They would have said, 'Enough is enough.'"

George Cuff has conducted more than a thousand reviews of municipal spending during his 34 years as a municipal governance consultant. He said some on Rimbey council have forgotten why they ran for office.

"Part of this becomes an entitlement creep that happens in terms of some municipal councils," he said. "There is a sense of, 'Well, I got elected. I am putting in all these extra hours. Don’t you owe me something for taking up all my time?'"

Honorarium covers meetings, functions

Like most small towns, Rimbey councillors receive a monthly honorarium of $1,000, while the mayor receives $1,500. In most towns, this covers all meetings and attendance at community functions. But not in Rimbey.

The internal financial documents show one councillor, Wayne Clark, had claimed for numerous community events including: eight hours pay — $200 — for golfing in the Victims Services Golf Tournament; $200 for putting in the arena ice; and $88.20 for attending the School Advisory Council Bingo Fundraiser. All of these events were run by volunteers.

Another councillor charged the town for attending its Remembrance Day ceremonies and another charged for riding in the Rimbey Parade.

"Where did their notion of volunteerism go?" Cuff asked. "Why is there such a sense of entitlement?"

Mayor Dale Barr charged dozens of hours to the town, mostly for what he called economic development work. In 2009, the town ended up paying him more than $66,000.

Cuff said Barr has no right to assume the job of economic development officer without the voters' approval.

"The mayor is elected to chair council meetings, to be the face of the community, to speak out on council issues, to be the leader of the community," Cuff said.

Town billed $40,000 for antique

Rimbey's main tourism draw is the International Truck Museum, the only one of its kind in North America. The museum owns several rare trucks. Yet council bought another in Quebec and shipped it back to Alberta for restoration. The total cost — almost $40,000.

"We have playgrounds in this town that need to be repaired," Ibbotson said. "We have sidewalks that need to be repaired. (There are) lots of projects that we could put that $40,000 into."

The documents suggest Rimbey's councillors are eager to travel. 

Cuff said small towns can't afford to send everyone to expensive conferences in places like Whistler and Toronto.

"At some point you have to say, 'Where do we get value?'" he said.

"And quite frankly, you would be hard pressed to justify that in a community of 2,500 population."

Mayor Barr and several councillors have for years attended Tory political fundraisers and charged the cost, including mileage, to the town. But after Anglin exposed these costs, the mayor and councillors reimbursed the town several thousand dollars.

Mayor defends spending claims

In a wide-ranging interview, Barr defended both his and his council's spending claims.

 "It’s time away from their business that they run," Barr said. "They can choose to hand in a bill or not a bill for that day's activities."

As for his own $66,000 salary, Barr said he is actually saving the town money because it doesn’t have to hire a full-time economic development officer.

Barr said the town needed the antique truck from Quebec because the trucks in the museum were not mechanically dependable.

"I think having a signature vehicle that is recognized puts awareness in the community and also has a way of promoting the community to the people outside of it," he said.

Barr also defended council's decision to send all its members to the conferences at Whistler and Toronto. He said it's critical for councillors to meet personally with the bureaucrats responsible for handing out billions of dollars in grants.

"We thought it was imperative that we get there in front of the government and the new programs in order to get a leg up on the application forms to see if we could be successful in getting funding for our community projects," Barr said.

Barr offered the same rationale for council spending more than $10,000 on Tory party fundraisers.

"We want to try and be in front of our provincial government when we can," he said.

"I think we have been successful in helping position Rimbey to open up ministers' doors if we need to discuss an issue that is happening within our community."

Both Ibbotson and Anglin said if they are elected on Monday, they will immediately call for an independent audit of the town's books.

Cuff says that anyone running for municipal office in Rimbey should ask themselves one question: "Are you running because you really want to serve the community or are you running because you want the community to serve you?"