Fort Erie Regional Councillor’s travel expenses point to a Niagara regional government system run amok

‘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.)

Fort Erie regional councilor Sandy Annunziata has found himself explaining his travel expenses lately.

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.

Where does the buck stop at Niagara regional council? Who is responsible for what and where is the accountability?

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.”

Does the buck stop here?

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.

Or does the buck stop right up  here? … att the top of Niagara Region’s political pecking order

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.

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space below the Bernie quote.

A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who also share their first and last names.

For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater binational Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

 

 

 

 

 

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6 responses to “Fort Erie Regional Councillor’s travel expenses point to a Niagara regional government system run amok

  1. Very well said and absolutely correct. If as Ed Smith discovered, the rules have been articulated since 2014 there is no excuse for not being aware of them. Either Caslin or Annunziata or both of them deliberately ignored the rules in place or chose to believe the rules did bot apply to them. Even if they were falling behind the “I didn’t know” approach they should be reminded “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” – that being said, does neither of them have even the most basic understanding of what the ethical approach would be??? Clearly – the rationale for being on the radio is slim at best – Annunziata cannot possibly define his “appearance” on the show as anything but “ego boosting” for a Class D “celebrity” holding on to past prominence.

    Like

  2. Great article and a bold one considering you’re probably going to get sued. If you do get sued contact me. I’ll throw $100 towards your defence.

    Like

  3. I was about to write but thought what the hell Nepotism and Cronyism is alive and well in this Region and there does NOT seem to be any solution EXCEPT THE NEXT ELECTION WHEN we the Tax Payers can get rid of the Proponents. (I had another word……
    BUT)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Everything appears to be spinning out of control here in Niagara with our governance. Can we not put a stop to the NPCA and Niagara Region; thus saving us taxpayers millions of dollars a year? The heavy burden of taxation on our Niagara seniors (second largest in the country) will not be able to sustain the system we have in place right now.
    The Region is basically a duplication of everything the municipalities do for us, i.e., planning department, etc. So why are we supporting two systems, i.e., for building permits, etc.? Now we have the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority as a 3rd level at the trough. They too want money for the same permit. Who is approving this craziness? When is this insanity going to stop?! The mayors sitting as Regional Councillors is a major contributor to our problems in my opinion.
    When the Region was first formed the mayors were not permitted to sit as Regional Councillors. Who is responsible for this change? I would like to know why our millions that are missing from the Regional coffers re: Burgoyne Bridge is not being discussed at the Regional Council. Do they think we the taxpayers are that stupid that we are not concerned? I want those responsible to be brought to court and pay for their actions!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m ready to disband Regional Government.. Enough already. It delivers nothing of value for the taxpayers and has become a job creation program and a place for corruption.
    I believe we now have to become more active in getting rid of this useless level of government.
    Anyone moving forward with this agenda, or who is already forming a taxpayers coalition to remove Regional Government should contact me.

    Like

  6. Linda Hume-Sastre

    Regional Council needs to be disbanded. It is a dysfunctional entity that is a drain on Niagara’s taxpayers and the value it provides is dubious at best. I totally agree with Ms. Haycox that the citizens of Niagara have to become active in removing Regional Council from the governance of Niagara. Time to make Niagara a Regional Council Free Zone!!!

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