Hot on the heels of an investigation into Mayor Todd Cowan’s expense claims, Woolwich Township has put in place new policies for council expenses and use of corporate credit cards.
Councillors meeting October 7 approved the new policies.Among other guidelines, the rules governing expenses clearly disallow as ineligible expensing: Items for personal use, expenses unrelated to the Township of Woolwich, and expenses incurred by a third party, for example expenses paid or requested by a group or individual other than an elected official. Credit card use is to be strictly defined and backed up with documentation.
Along with discovering double billing of both the Region of Waterloo and the township, the review of Cowan’s expenses showed he used his corporate credit card for personal expenses, though he did reimburse the township in each instance. His was the first case of a credit card being issued to a Woolwich council member.
That investigation by the township and region found some $2,700 in expenses paid by Woolwich but also reimbursed to Cowan by the region. The councils of both municipalities referred the matter to Waterloo Regional Police. The matter was later widened when a review of Cowan’s expense claims to the Grand River Conservation Authority found $465 in mileage claims that may have been double-billed.
In presenting the new policies to council Tuesday night, director of finance Richard Petherick said the goal is to make expense claims more transparent in order “to maintain fiscal responsibility.”
Coun. Bonnie Bryant, arguing councillors don’t need a credit card, got council support for an addition to the expense policy requiring the acting mayor (the position rotates among councillors) to sign off on all of council’s expenses before they are submitted.
“Let’s police ourselves to make it a little easier on staff,” she said.
In a related matter following the review of Cowan’s expenses – an internal investigation followed by a third-party legal review completed by a cost of $25,000 – the region and its member municipalities now have safeguards in place to spot the kind of double-billing Cowan carried out. The mayor blamed the billing on poor bookkeeping skills, paying the money back when the overpayments were uncovered.