Town council unanimously supported a motion by Councillor Patrick Wilson to have town administration propose updated policies related to Cochrane’s mayor, town council and administration travel expenses for the town's 2024 budget.
Wilson also asked the administration to provide recommendations for best practices on conference, travel, and training budgets, and online expense reporting.
Wilson said the intention is to initiate a review and update of Cochrane expense policies to ensure it is in alignment with Alberta municipal expensing best practices and to increase the details of elected official expenses reported on the town website for public perusal.
Only a timeline was added, pushed by Councillor Tara McFadden, to the original motion.
Stacey Loe, executive director for protective and community services, told council it will be ready for review at town council's July 3 committee-of-the-whole meeting. Council could possibly ratify changes, if any, at its July 10 regular meeting. After that, council next connects for a Sept. 5 committee-of-the-whole meeting.
McFadden attempted to get a moratorium on any town council or administration travel expenses until the council had deliberated over the recommendations but failed to gain support. Councillors believed the report will return soon enough for 2024 budget deliberations should any changes be made. A moratorium would also come at a time when three town councillors are scheduled to travel to Toronto to participate in the annual conference and trade show of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
Councillors have been invited to submit their ideas to administration for consideration in preparing its recommendation.
No debate was held on the motion. The notice of motion rules calls for discussion to be focussed on whether or not to proceed with the action sought in a motion.
The probe followed a FIOP request of resident Brandon Cruze examining the expenses of Mayor Jeff Genung and CAO Mike Derrricott. He called their travel expenses excessive and believed changes were required to rules governing expenses.
While declining any interviews on the topic, Mayor Genung recorded a message explaining he and CAO Derricott were following town policy.
From the FIOP, Genung pointed out there were three charges totalling $84.47 for three boxes of muffins he had delivered to town staff from his business, Cochrane Coffee Traders. He said he has since repaid the amount.
"That should not have happened, that was a mistake on my part, and I'm owning it here today," he said.
He said in an organization the size of the town, you're likely going to find a few minor irregularities but also pointed out he has paid some expenses out of his pocket while doing town business.
"I am now going to turn my efforts in fighting forward versus fighting back, and that is how I've chosen to be as mayor, and I hope come election time in 2 1/2 years you can hold me to those if you'd like."
Genung says the town has recently been inundated with FIOP requests that are costly to process. He said the town has received about 15 this year, compared to typically three or four annually. At the same time, he noted FIOP requests play an important role.
Since then, the details of three FIOP requests have been posted on the town website, two of them pertaining to expenses of travel expenses of Mayor Genung and CAO Derrciott from September 2022 to January 2023, and their expense reports from January 2020 to August 2022.
The third was regarding a motor vehicle collision attended by members of the Cochrane Fire Services on April 27, 2019.
One on Derricott's moving expenses when hired by the town wasn't included.