PENTICTON - While every member of city council has traveled to Whistler this week for the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, Coun. John Vassilaki says they are wasting money by sending so many people to the same conference.
Vassilaki, who announced his mayoral candidacy at the beginning of the month, says the cost for sending five people to the conference is not worth the rewards.
“I believe they think money grows on trees and you just have to go pick it,” he says of his fellow councillors and mayor.
He estimates it costs between $2,500 and $4,000 per person to attend the event—taxpayer dollars that could be better spent elsewhere. In 2013, Vassilaki had the lowest expenses of any councillor. His expenses total was zero, compared to the thousands of dollars in expenses claimed by the five other councillors and mayor.
Vassilaki is not against the conference—he attended two years ago in Victoria at the beginning of his term. Over his 12 years on council, he has attended UBCM once every term, he says. And if elected mayor he would attend every year, and take two different councillors every year. If he can’t make it, the appointed permanent deputy mayor will go in his place, he says.
As it is now, rotating deputy mayors are not told when things are happening when the mayor is out of town, he says. The person in charge needs to be as familiar with things as the mayor, he says.
“They’re using the excuse that they have to show force,” Vassilaki says of council. “The more people you send down, the more results you get,” is the mentality they have, he says.
But there is such little one-on-one time for community leaders to spend with provincial ministers at the conference that it doesn't matter how many people you send, he says. Ministers aren’t going to remember every councillor or problem from Penticton in that short time especially when they are talking to so many other local officials, Vassilaki says.
Council needs to prepare projects so they can bring them to Victoria when grant funding is available, he says. It could take days of meetings to show the importance of a project, but getting up-close and personal with ministers is how to get the job done, he says.
“That's the only way to get a foothold in Victoria so they know you’re there and know exactly what we want,” he says.
But the conference is one-stop-shopping for city officials to get advice from ministers and peers, says Coun. Katie Robinson who is currently at the conference. Council had six meetings with ministers on Tuesday, alone, she says, which makes for long days but they are getting a lot accomplished.
The conference is the best education for anyone in politics, and while it may have a pricetag, so does taking issues directly to Victoria, she says.
"If you added up how much it would cost you to go to Victoria seven times then, cachink, cachink, cachink," she says, imitating the sound of a cash register.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Meaghan Archer at email@example.com or call 250-488-3065. To contact the editor, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-718-2724.