Prince George city council is interested in clearing the cloud of uncertainty and doubt over the inner workings of city hall, but don't want to do it in a way that burdens city staff.
A motion requesting the release of information on seven suppliers the city has done business with was voted down during Monday night's city council meeting.
The motion, brought by Coun. Brian Skakun, was an attempt to gain information that as an elected official, Skakun said he felt he shouldn't have to jump through hoops to gather.
But Skakun's council colleagues were quick to dismiss the motion as a slight against city staff, who have indicated that it would be more than a matter of printing off an invoice for Skakun to examine.
"This is tantamount to throwing this administration under the bus," said Coun. Dave Wilbur, who also called Skakun's request "unexplained and wasteful."
Coun. Cameron Stolz detailed the variety of bylaws Skakun had a hand in creating as part of a governance review committee struck in 2010. These bylaws gave restricted delegated authority to city staff over purchasing power.
"We had the opportunity over 20 months to review every aspect of how the finances of the city of Prince George are handled," said Stolz, who sat on the committee along with Skakun and Coun. Murry Krause. "We had the opportunity to have input on how those invoices were to be brought forward, which invoices would be approved by council and which would be approved by staff at the different levels. This says that we trust our staff, that they are competent in what they do and that they are professional."
Stolz also said that all members of council were able to come to the standing committee on finance and audit to ask questions and raise concerns, which Skakun had not done in.
Council does not have to check up on administration, as there are already checks and balances in place, said Coun. Albert Koehler, unless there is a reason for suspicion.
In his first year on the job, Coun. Lyn Hall said he has not run into any problems getting questions answered by staff. "And God knows I spend a lot of time badgering staff," he said.
Skakun's notice of motion, which was first introduced on the Jan. 8 council agenda, has created a "cloud of suspicion" in the community which is unfair, said Hall.
Stolz questioned whether Skakun was bringing the motion forward because of concerns over misappropriation of funds or other legal issues that council should be looking into.
"That's absolutely absurd," Skakun replied, adding he wanted to be able to clarify for himself and for residents who asked, what the city is spending its money on and what those services were for.
Skakun brought the motion to council on a recommendation from Mayor Shari Green, who was asked for direction from acting city manager and corporate services director Kathleen Soltis about the request for information when it initially came to her department last year.
She said she suggested it come to council to answer the question of whether this is what staff time should be directed to. According to Soltis, taking one example from Skakun's list of inquires, staff would be required to pull 43 separate invoices and calculated that at least seven hours would be required to gather the reason behind all of those invoices.
Wilbur said he saw a lot of merit in the issue of increasing transparency, but didn't believe Skakun's motion, which included a request that administration provide information to individual city councillors "if requested by them to clarify why the city has spent funds from businesses listed in the annual City of Prince George financial information statement of individual suppliers."
Krause said he saw a silver lining in the hour-and-a-half debate council had over the issue. "I think there are different ways of getting to the same end," he said.
Coun. Garth Frizzell promoted a number of technological advancements and ideas that have been put to use in other governments to help the city communicate their expenses more proactively. "It's a bit of a shame that this has become a corruption issue," he said.