‘This is not only Sandy Annunziata and his attitude towards our tax dollars. This is a system that has run amok over the citizens of Niagara, and it starts at the top.’
By Ed Smith
Posted September 11th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
(A Brief Foreword Note from Niagara At Large publisher Doug Draper – In light of the recent revelation into the use of public funds by Fort Erie Regional Councillor Sandy Annunziata, Niagara at Large is pleased to post the following column by Niagara, Ontario resident and community activist Ed Smith that, in NAL’s view, cuts through some of the crap that has been thrown out there and takes a deeper look into the facts.)
For those of you who may be unaware, an article in the St Catharines Standard, published on the front page of the newspaper this past September 2nd, exposed the fact that Regional Councillor Annunziata has received thousands of taxpayer dollars in order to drive to Toronto for a radio talk show on which he is a frequent guest host. According to the Standard article Annunziata asserted the money was “well spent”.
Again according to the article in the Standard; regional councillors receive 54 cents for every kilometre traveled up to 5,000 kilometres, and 48 cents for every kilometre after that. Of the more than 15,900 kilometres Annunziata claimed as travel expenses in 2015 more than half, or 8,324 km, were for trips to Newstalk 1010. He would have received around $4,100 dollars.
When questioned about these facts, the Standard article reports Regional Chair Al Caslin’s response as; “It is up to each councillor to decide what is a legitimate expense and what is not.”
According to the article, other unnamed councillors appear to have refused to pass a judgment since there apparently are no rules or guidelines on what councillors are entitled to claim as expenses.
A November 7th, 2014 message from the Regional Clerk to all the currently sitting councillors advised them that they are entitled to reimbursement of expenses as outlined in two separate policies, Those policies clearly state that not only must they be on authorized Regional business but that their supervisor (in this case Chair Caslin) is charged with review and approval of these expenses.
In his defence, Councillor Annunziata stated to the Standard, in part, that his mileage expense is “money well spent because he is raising Niagara’s profile”.
A random sampling of the radio show he appears on revealed the following matters were discussed;
- Alcohol or pot, which would you prefer your teen to use
- Milton’s battle with CN rail
- Bilderburg Group, what is it?
- Is a $250 fine enough for a woman caught masturbating in a public library
- Another casino pitch for Toronto
- Star Wars style hover bikes might be closer than you think
- Handicap parking at the Calgary Airport
- Princess Diana
- Al Gore
- Assault charges and the Governor General
No example of a discussion on Fort Erie or the Niagara Region could be found. Twelve programs were reviewed.
According to another article published in 2016, Sandy Annunziata topped the Regional Council in expense reports for 2015, out of 31 Regional Councillors he claimed the most expenses. When questioned about this he was quoted as responding:
“About 90 per cent of my expenses were kilometres driven,” he said at the time. “I’m a boots on the ground kind of guy and this past year we’ve had a lot of heavy lifting.”
Council, Annuziata continued, wants to “ensure residents are getting value from the contributions of elected officials. I think to a large extent that can be measured in the holes in the soles of their shoes and the kilometres on their cars.”
He did not mention that of those kilometres driven, more than half of them were to the radio station in Toronto and back. He did, however, go on to offer;
“My kilometres come from supporting my colleagues throughout the region, attending an incredible amount of committee meetings, board meetings and council functions throughout Niagara.”
Again, he failed to mention that more that 8,324 of the kilometers driven were to the radio station in Toronto. Is this what he refers to as the “heavy lifting”? Is that his definition of a “boots on the ground kind of guy”?
In the 2016 article Annunziata further states;
“I’ve lost count how many times we’ve met at ministers’ offices in Toronto, advocating for the (CSM) project, meeting with MTO officials. It’s a lot of work and something I’m happy to do.”
Having reviewed his expense claims from 2015, it appears the number of times he met at the minister’s office in Toronto is three. According to the claims he filed, he visited the minister’s office three times at the most. On the other hand he went to the radio station between 25 and 30 times that year. That would be a more difficult number to remember; perhaps that’s why he failed to mention it.
A tally of his appearances on the radio program for 2016 shows he did at least 12 shows in Toronto that year, and thus far has done 21 in 2017, with more scheduled.
Information will be released soon and we will see if he continued to bill the taxpayer for his appearances.
In his own words, Sandy Annunziata, who also sits as one of a number of regional government appointed members on the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s board of directors and currently serves as the board’s chair) is a “D level celebrity” and apparently that status justifies him charging the taxpayers for his appearances.
It’s important to realize that this is not only Sandy Annunziata and his attitude towards our tax dollars. This is a system that has run amok over the citizens of Niagara, and it starts at the top.
The rules and regulations were in place to prevent this, so either Al Caslin has been unaware of his responsibilities as Chair of the Region, or he has endorsed Sandy’s trips to Toronto at the taxpayer’s expense.
If he has endorsed the trips then let him come forward and explain why, instead of hiding behind a wall of self-assumed ignorance.
Niagara does not need a D level celebrity “promoting” it by appearing on talk shows to discuss the merits of a $250 fine for public masturbation and Niagara deserves better leadership from those who could control such actions.
The next municipal elections are coming in October of next year. Change is coming.
Ed Smith is a resident of St. Catharines in Niagara, Ontario, a long-time community organizer and activist, and a retired Canadian Armed Forces officer. He is currently fighting defamation charges launched against him last winter by the Niagara Peninsula Conserrvation Authority and its former CAO Carmen D’Angelo (now the CAO for Niagara’s regional government) after he raised questions and concerns about the NPCA’s business practices.
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