Former Saanich mayor Richard Atwell is asking the District of Saanich to reimburse him more than $4,500 dollars for a trip to Japan to help develop a sister-city relationship with a community near Hiroshima, even though the municipality lacked any budget for international travel.
Atwell filed the request in a report dated Nov. 2 — after he had lost the race for mayor to then-councillor Fred Haynes, who was sworn in as mayor on Nov. 5.
One of the outstanding questions concerning Atwell’s request is the basis of his claim. According to a report from Saanich’s chief administrative officer (CAO) Paul Thorkelsson, the 2018 budget did not include funds for international travel.
Thorkelsson, according to his own report, told Atwell and council that “international travel representing the District should be considered and approved by [council].”
Tara Zajac, a spokesperson for the District of Saanich, said Atwell did not ask council to approve the trip.
“Mayor Atwell advised that this travel was covered under the Council Remuneration and Expenses Policy under the provision of the mayor having authority to attend any meeting believed to be in the interests of the District,” wrote Thorkelsson in a memo to council to be considered at the regular council meeting Dec. 10.
Section 2.c of the cited document says that the “[mayor] or his delegate are authorized to attend meetings of particular importance to the municipal interest on behalf of the municipality and shall be paid in accordance with subsections e and f [registration, travel, accommodation, and meal] expenses, for expenditures made or expenses incurred.”
These expenses added up to a total of $4,535.99.
“While not a significant amount, it is important to note that there was not any funds established in the 2018 budget for the purposes of international travel by any member of [council], ” said Thorkelsson.
Coun. Susan Brice, who was the first member of the current council to respond for comment, opposed reimbursement. “Any consideration regarding financial reimbursement for this international trip should have been discussed with council prior to the travel,” she said. “That is best practise to have due process and openness.”
Coun. Ned Taylor said he would be open to reimburse Atwell for the amount that the District saved by not sending him to the annual conferences of the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) and Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). He also added that Saanich stands to benefit by developing a sister-city relationship with a community in Japan, because of its forward-thinking policies on a number of issues, including transportation among others.
Atwell’s trip itself took place Aug. 3 to 6. A Japanese delegation from the City of Hatsukaichi had visited Saanich in April and both communities took steps towards building a formal sister-city relationship. Saanich currently lacks such a relationship.
Atwell did not respond to questions for comment.