Have (CBRM) Expense Account, Will Travel

Note: On Friday June 21 I received a revised version of the travel expenses and have updated the totals accordingly — I have also attached the revised travel sheet at the end of the article.

In the five months after losing his bid to become leader of the provincial Progressive Conservatives — a bid that occupied him from 3 February to 27 October 2018 — CBRM Mayor Clarke ran up $17,901.01 in travel expenses.

The last time the mayor spent $18,000 in five months on travel (including local mileage), it made headlines in the Cape Breton Post:

Note the purpose of the trip to Toronto — to “drum up business” for the Cape Breton rail line.

During the same time period — we’re talking 1 November 2018 to 11 April 2019 — Clarke’s executive assistant, Mark Bettens, claimed travel and expenses worth $11,983.23 and John Phalen — who was Economic Development Manager of the CBRM in November 2018 but returned to Public Works in February 2019 — claimed $10,558.23

Just over four months of travel for all three together cost the public $40,442.47.

To put that in perspective: a Sydney Call Centre employee working 40 hours a week at $12 an hour would gross less — $24,960 — in a year.

 

Port, anyone?

Literally days after losing the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservatives to Tim Houston, Clarke hit the road for “port development meetings” in Ottawa. As I wrote at that time:

[Clarke] left the convention on Saturday, October 27 [2018] and by Thursday, November 1 was back on the port file — even though he’d said eight months earlier, in no uncertain terms, that his work on that file was done.

I asked his spokesperson, Sheilah MacDonald, what this latest port development meeting was about and whether this means the mayor is once again heading the file. She told me in an email:

[W]hile the Port of Sydney is responsible for port development, the CBRM is supportive of their efforts. The Mayor travelled to Ottawa to show appropriate support of a development project.

Ohhhhhhh. I get it. He was traveling on the OTHER Port file. The one that involves the Sydney Marine Terminal and the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion and the second cruise ship berth. The one we established a port corporation with a $200,000/year CEO to look after. THAT Port file.

As it turns out, Clarke’s show of “appropriate support” involved traveling to Ottawa to meet with Andrew Prossin’s One Ocean Expeditions (OOE about which I will have more to say in an upcoming issue) and to attend the Royal Canadian Geographical Society Annual Dinner.

This show of support cost us at least $1,361.70. (I say at least because there was a discrepancy between the airfare quoted in the information I received last week, which came from the CBRM’s Finance Department — $905.62 — and the airfare the Mayor himself posted online — $1,027.40. I was interested to hear the expenses Clarke posts online are calculated in his office. I had assumed they were calculated by the Finance Department.)

Clarke also traveled to Toronto and St. John’s for “port development” meetings, but the information about these is vague — we don’t know with whom he met nor do we have the slightest hint of what was discussed.

In all, Clarke’s port-related expenses during this five-month period totaled $5,088.02 — meaning a file he no longer heads accounted for 30% of his travel.

Bettens’ port-related travel expenses totaled $4,170.70 — or 35% of his total expenses in the monitored period, and he’s the guy who assists the guy who is no longer heading the port file.

Phalen’s port-related travel expenses totaled $5,767.57 or 55% of his overall expenses.

 

I hear Jacksonville is lovely in April

Phalen and Bettens attended “Port Development Meetings” in Jacksonville, Florida from 2-6 April 2019.

Bettens attended these meetings even though Mayor Cecil Clarke did not, which raises some interesting questions about Bettens’ role: why would the mayor’s executive assistant attend a meeting the mayor himself did not attend? Did he go in Clarke’s place? Isn’t there a deputy mayor to do things in Clarke’s place? (Assuming someone had to attend “port development meetings” in Jacksonville, Florida in April, which I’m not convinced anyone did.)

As for Phalen, by April 2019 he had returned to the Public Works Department — did he attend a port development meeting in Florida in that capacity?

Did Albert Barbusci, who has a tree-climbing business in Kissimmee Florida (about three hours from Jacksonville) attend those meetings?

And then there are the garden variety questions a person who paid $510 for information it apparently took 17 hours to gather really shouldn’t have to ask like: was this an official conference? If so, what was it called? If not, with whom did Bettens and Phalen meet? Did they ever report to Council about their trip? If they didn’t learn anything worth conveying to Council, should they have gone? (I asked Phalen these questions through CBRM spokesperson Jillian Moore, who acknowledged receipt of my email, but as of press time I had not received Phalen’s answers.)

 

Bettens’ role redux

Bettens also met with One Ocean Expeditions and attended a TIANS (Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia) Conference in Halifax from 26-28 November 2018 without Mayor Clarke, who was in Halifax from 26-27 November, but was attending a First Nations Self Government Summit.

Again, this raises questions about Bettens’ role. (Questions I asked Mayor Clarke through his spokesperson, Sheilah MacDonald, who has yet to acknowledge receiving my email.)

Not to mention questions about the CBRM’s generous mileage allowance — Bettens and Clarke each claimed $405.72 for driving to Halifax and back, meaning we paid over $800 to transport two people to Halifax by car.

 

You are what you eat

Phalen, Bettens and Clarke all attended a “Tri-Community Event” in Moncton on January 29-30 of this year, which is described as a “Meeting with City of Moncton (Mayor/Officials) on Development, Transit, Planning Initiatives.” I don’t recall reading or hearing anything about the fruits of this event but apparently the agenda didn’t include lunch, because together, the three CBRM reps claimed $1,686.39 in expenses — 34% of which was Phalen’s $577.35 claim for meals.

The record doesn’t specify whether he was paying for the others as well, but we have to hope he was, as Clarke and Bettens each claimed only $38.40 for meals.

That still brings the two-day food bill for three people to $654.15. 

It’s like feeding Irish Wolfhounds.

 

Lunch with Albert

Speaking of free lunches, whoever said there was no such thing clearly wasn’t doing business with the CBRM.

On 19 February 2019 and 27 March 2019, Phalen had “luncheons” with port “developer” Albert Barbusci and the CBRM picked up the tabs. (Your guess is as good as mine as to why the bill was $45.20 in February and $191.82 in March. Either there were more people involved in March or they upped their lunch game considerably.)

The event was “local,” which means Barbusci was here in February and March, and yet I don’t recall him addressing Council either time. Apparently, having lunch with the manager of Public Works Central (Phalen’s current title) satisfies his contractual obligation to report his progress to the CBRM on a “biweekly basis.”

 

Flight path

Some of the entries just beg for clarification.

Take the stretch between 26 February and 1 March 2019.

Phalen and Bettens both claimed expenses for attending meetings with provincial Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (TIR) officials in Halifax from February 26 to 27. Bettens claimed mileage and meals for a total of $492.27.

Phalen claimed meals (worth $154.15), hotel and “other” expenses worth a total of $346.23.

Clarke claimed expenses from February 26 to March 1 for mileage, meals, hotel, taxis (although he’d apparently driven to Halifax) and a $42.43 lunch for himself and a staff member at the “Flyer & Firkin” restaurant in Endfield (i.e. the Firkin & Flyer restaurant in the Halifax airport) on February 27.

I can make no sense of that, unless he and Bettens (or Phalen) decided to take a taxi to the airport for lunch because…No, I can make no sense of that.

Or consider Clarke’s 7-9 February 2019 trip to Halifax and St. John’s, Newfoundland.

He claims an Air Canada booking fee ($57.50) and a WestJet cancellation fee ($115.00). He claims two separate Air Canada tickets — $464.74 and $706.24. He claims mileage of $221.72 but he also claims $58 for taxis. He claims accommodations for one night in Halifax ($168.91), meals worth $134.95 and “Other” expenses worth $17.30 for a grand total of $1,944.36. 

And all that in aid of what, exactly? Whom did he meet for port discussions in St. John’s?

 

Can we get the bill?

I decided to calculate how much Clarke has claimed, to date, in travel expenses in the name of “port development” and the table below represents my best guess. (I had to transpose figures from the scans Clarke posts online and the PDFs the CBRM sent me to a spreadsheet so that I could manipulate — in a good way, not a nefarious way — the data. If there are errors I apologize, but really, the CBRM needs to start posting editable data).

DatesDescriptionCost to CBRM 
2013.09.02-03Ottawa Port Development1,005.07
2013.09.09Ottawa Port Development2,203.79
2013.09.18Halifax Port Development999.71
2013.10.31Travel-Halifax to Calgary-Port Development1,460.95
2013.12.04-06Ottawa Port Development1,110.56
2013.12.12-14Halifax Port Development751.64
2013.12.19Halifax Port Development613.78
2013.12.26-27Halifax Port 667.27
2014.01.06-07Ottawa Port Development883.75
2014.01.22Halifax Port 605.06
2014.02.03Halifax Port 307.48
2014.02.09-12Ottawa Port Development968.24
2014.02.20-21Halifax Port Development467.44
2014.02.24-28Seattle Port Development1,318.97
2014.05.03Ottawa Port Development1,470.94
2014.03.31Ottawa Port Development698.77
2014.04.01Ottawa Port Divestiture459.17
2014.04.27-2014.05.01Ottawa Port Divestiture1,645.62
2014.07.15-16Ottawa Port Development Meetings 1,628.83
2014.07.20-23Halifax Meeting666.17
2014.07.25Halifax Meeting Port Development1,116.94
2014.07.28Meeting with Minister Samson – Arichat122.62
2014.07.29-31New York – Port Development2,293.45
2014.08.05-07Montreal – Port Development1,756.25
2014.11.09-10Port Development-- Halifax523.24
2014.11.13Donkin Mine Meeting Halifax348.38
2015.01.18Meetings in Toronto2,578.61
2015.07.27-29Toronto/Ottawa/Hamilton – Port Development Meetings1,935.26
2015.08.27-31Montreal/Ottawa – Port Development2,578.81
2015.10.07-10Port Development – Toronto1,443.29
2015.11.26–2015.12.06China4,991.50
2016.01.06-08Montreal – Port Development Meetings1,670.89
2016.05.08-10Montreal – Port Development1,688.73
2017.01.10-13Toronto – Port Development Meeting1,774.68
2017.02.07-09Port Development Meetings – St. John’s, Toronto2,381.03
2017.03.23-28Savannah, Georgia – Port Development Meeting3,897.33
2017.05.09Meeting in Halifax81.93
2017.07.10-13Toronto – Port Development Meetings1,702.35
2017.07.18-20TO and Montreal – Port Development Meetings1,855.04
2017.08.09-11Toronto – New York – Port Development Meetings2,231.47
2017.08.31–2017.09.02Montreal – Port Development Meetings1,751.49
2017.09.05St. John’s Newfoundland – Port Development Meeting319.87
2017.10.08-11Port Development Meeting – Montreal2,434.87
2017.12.01-06Port Development Meeting – Beijing, China6,726.83
2018.06.27-28Port Development Meeting – Toronto1,322.42
2018.11.01-02Port Development Meetings – Ottawa1,482.80
2018.03.14-15Port Development Meeting – Toronto1,937.25
2019.02.07-09Halifax-Capital Plan- St. John’s – Port Meetings1,944.36
2019.03.14-15Toronto – Port Development Meeting1,781.96
TOTAL75,601.79

 

Remember, that’s just Clarke’s expenses — there’s a good chance he was accompanied on some of those trips by Bettens or Phalen or both (we know, for instance, that the 2017 trip to China included Clarke, Bettens, Phalen and CAO Marie Walsh).

That total represents, I would argue, a lot of money for this town — again, to use the Sydney Call Centre example, an employee working 40 hours a week at $12 an hour there would have to work a little over THREE YEARS to earn what the mayor has spent on port-related travel since 2013.

And what has it produced?

Well, one of the advantages to being vague about what you’re doing (“Toronto — Port Meetings”) is that it makes it very difficult  for others to judge whether or not you’ve succeeded.

But it’s been five years since Clarke embraced Barbusci and his partner Barry Sheehy and their dream of an ultra-large container ship terminal in Sydney and they have, literally, nothing to show for it except whatever souvenirs they bought themselves in Beijing:

And the trips to Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, St. John’s, Halifax, Savannah, Seattle, New York and Jacksonville? I suspect that had they produced tangible, positive results with regard to “port development” we would have heard about them.

And I haven’t heard a thing, have you?

I mean, aside from the information I just received from the CBRM, which I’m happy to share with you:

Revised Copy of port travel nov 2018-apr 11 2019 as of June 21-19 to applicant

Featured image: Air Canada Airbus landing at Montreal airport. (Photo by abdallahh at Flickr, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)