St. John’s mayor tops council in travel expenses

Daniel MacEachern
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Councillors’ travel claims down 17.8 per cent in 2015

St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe leads city council in claimed travel expenses of the current administration.

Louis Power/Telegram file photo
Aside from the economic benefit, there’s an intrinsic benefit in profiling your city and province, says St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe about why he should go to the annual Seatrade convention in Florida.

O’Keefe’s 10 trips, totalling more than $39,000, account for nearly half of the travel expenses claimed by the mayor and councillors since the 2013 election, including the mayor’s annual trips to Florida for the annual Seatrade convention for the cruise industry.

As reported by The Telegram on Wednesday, travel expenses claimed by city council and staff jumped 20 per cent from 2014 to 2015. Last year, though, travel costs by city council actually dropped 17.8 per cent, from $45,603.52 in 2014 to $37,493.16.

Mayor Dennis O’Keefe said the increase reflected a higher cost of travel, as well as an increased amount.

“When people, whether they be councillors or staff, travel, it’s for a good reason,” said O’Keefe. “It could be a part of a learning experience, it could be part of looking at other ways here in the city, it could be learning about new trends, whether it comes into water or wastewater treatment. Travel is scrutinized at the city, it’s signed off, and there’s a process in place. When travel is done, it’s done because it’s seen as being necessary in the city maintaining its role, its programs and its services.”

At Monday’s city council meeting, Coun. Art Puddister voted against O’Keefe’s trip later this month to Seatrade, with O’Keefe responding by citing a city report estimating the value of the cruise industry to St. John’s at about $2 million in 2013, with expected growth in subsequent years.

While O’Keefe usually travels with someone from the city’s tourism department, this year he’s attending alone, and the mayor said the city’s presence at conventions like Seatrade is crucial to a continued economic benefit.

He will table the convention’s schedule at Monday’s council meeting.

“We’ve lined up … seven or eight specific meetings with companies who already come here, with others who are very, very interested in coming, not only to St. John’s but also to ports around Newfoundland and Labrador,” he said. “Aside from the economic benefit, there’s an intrinsic benefit in profiling your city and province. It’s another form of getting people to the port, experiencing the city, and trends show that many of these people will come back, most likely on a land-based vacation.”

St. John’s is competing with other ports in Atlantic Canada and nearby — including Halifax, Charlottetown, Sydney and Montreal — for cruise visits.

“They’re all out there, very, very enthusiastically promoting their cities and their ports to the cruise industry, and we have to do the same thing. Otherwise, we will lose the momentum that we’ve gained over the past number of years,” O’Keefe said. “And that momentum has come as a result of building up very, very strong relationships with these cruise lines that I wouldn’t want to see lost.”

Current council (since 2013 election) in order of total travel expenses:

1. Mayor Dennis O’Keefe, 10 trips, $39,390.03

2. Coun. Sandy Hickman, seven trips, $14,009.90

3. Coun. Jonathan Galgay, three trips, $12,050.25

4. Coun. Danny Breen, six trips, $4,765.21

5. Coun. Dave Lane, one trip, $3,867.32

6. Coun. Art Puddister, three trips, $3,319.10

7. Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth, one trip, $3,045.20

8. Former councillor Bernard Davis, two trips, $2,649.67

Three councillors — Tom Hann, Bruce Tilley and Wally Collins — have claimed no travel expenses since the 2013 election.

Geographic location: Florida, Newfoundland and Labrador, Atlantic Canada Charlottetown Sydney Montreal

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Recent comments

  • Tom H
    March 05, 2016 - 21:25

    Imagine $4000.00 per trip for Galgay and O"Keefe - explanation needed as who spends that much on each and every trip. Where did they go and why so costly? Why should us seniors have to pay extra for the luxury of Galgay and O"Keefe. Only one year and they are gone from council.

  • gab
    March 05, 2016 - 15:22

    And the message from the very top of council is: Spend Spend Spend look after your staff and co workers..and their retirement settlements too..we're here for a good time not for a long time!!!

  • Linda C
    March 05, 2016 - 07:33

    I can see why a mayor would take a lot of trips (I don't necessarily agree that he needs to) but I'm more interested in the seven trips that Sandy Hickman took. More details on that, please.

  • steve
    March 05, 2016 - 05:46

    This very paper is conducting a straw poll asking whether the city should have spend 20 percent more on travel and so far 94 percent of taxpayers have said NO. So do the honorable thing MR.MAYOR and cancel your trip to Florida.The people are speaking and you KNOW it.

  • Em
    March 04, 2016 - 22:06

    It's not at all surprising that the Mayor would called upon to travel more often than the rest of council. But, I question what this Mayor can offer us to show for it.

  • Tony
    March 04, 2016 - 21:07

    I remember not that long ago when Joe Public was cheering Doc , when he took over from Andy. Everything changes through time and to be quite frank , Doc's time has come and in my opinion, he will be defeated in the next Municipal election as well as rookie Galgay. Both have shown disrespect for the tax payers of old St. John's and will certainly pay the political price in 4 yrs time! Doc will walk away after his defeat , ego in check, and will finally have to pay for his Florida vacation ,on his own dime. Galgay will be defeated and will try in vain to be re-elected ,but to know avail. His ego has cemented the outcome!!

    • steve
      March 06, 2016 - 09:23

      not 4 yrs Tony. the MUNICIPAL ELECTION is 2017 EVERYONE.

  • Sam
    March 04, 2016 - 16:47

    You've got to love how he justifies his action. "Travel is scrutinized at the city, it’s signed off". I think it goes some where along the line, I wonder if I'll take another trip to Florida at the taxpayers expense.and then with a spin of his desk chair he say why not, "approved".

  • Newfdawg
    March 04, 2016 - 15:13

    Come on councillors Sing Along M.i.C.K.E.Y. M.O.U.S.E New theme song for the city property tax robbers.AKA CITY HALL! some of them know it much better than others!

  • Political Watcher
    March 04, 2016 - 14:09

    Doc has to stop feeding us BS on the cruise ships. They contribute very little to the local economy. We are an add on in most cases; they don't even list St. John's on their itineraries. Visit the major line who visit here and try to find St. John's as a port of call, you won't. That is why they cancel on the last minute, we are only an avenue for them to stretch their legs. If the B of T are truly pissed with this council and Doc, then they should do a survey each time a cruise ship visits using the info straight from the businesses on the day of the visit. Add it up and present it to Doc and lets see the millions he dreams about. They are money sucking polluters!

  • dirty larry
    March 04, 2016 - 12:58


  • Sparky
    March 04, 2016 - 11:46

    This is why people run for politics ego and the free trips. You would have thought that Mr. Davis would have refunded the $2600 seeing as he left Council after serving such a short time. Kudos to Councillors Hann, Tilley and Collins for not taking advantage.

  • MRS
    March 04, 2016 - 11:39

    I would like to see a breakdown of the trips; destinations and purpose. Obviously they are not reviewed prior to approval as evident by the fact that D Blackmore was sent to Whistler a week before being given his reirement pkg!!!!!

  • Just wondering
    March 04, 2016 - 10:54

    Is there anywhere to see where the destinations were and the cost for each specific trip... hotels, meals, travel... a breakdown would be nice. Ten trips, seven trips and then one trip at over 3000.00. Where did they go to? China?

    • Em
      March 04, 2016 - 22:11

      I'd like to know which of the events traveled to offered the option to engage - and be seen engaging - online, instead.

  • EDfromRED
    March 04, 2016 - 09:40

    How lazy are the residents of St John's, that all this blatant taxpayer robbery goes unprotested? If you are too stun to take action, you deserve to be taxed more.

    • Lynn
      March 04, 2016 - 10:34

      You might want to watch what you say there EDfromRED. This type of comment is hardly necessary. Pretty narrow minded if you ask me.

    • EDfromRED
      March 04, 2016 - 19:22

      Not narrow-minded, but the truth. Must be something in the water there that degrades courage any backbones.

  • Doug
    March 04, 2016 - 08:53

    Does anyone know where we can get a copy of the "... city report estimating the value of the cruise industry to St. John’s at about $2 million in 2013, with expected growth in subsequent years." It's possible that they could be correct but I'd love to know what concrete evidence they based their estimating on. I could estimate that my salary is going to be $2 million in 2017. I have absolutely nothing to prove this or any reasonable logic to support it but hey, I can still make that estimate.

    • Bob Hallett
      March 04, 2016 - 14:10

      Those stats come from a provincial news release. The City has their own numbers, but they have never been publicly released, though they will give them to you if you ask. Essentially, cruise passengers spend $60-$90 each, depending on who you ask. This number seems to be based on dividing what the boats spent in St. John's by the number of passengers, so you can take them at face value and not much more.

  • Kev
    March 04, 2016 - 08:48

    Oh, what, a, surprise. Someone needs his wings clipped.

  • Observer
    March 04, 2016 - 08:43

    The mayor should have everyone's support on this. It is important to get out of Newfoundland and see how the rest of the world does things, first hand, and for us to be seen by the world, in person. It's what mayors do! He ought to be advocating for the city within Canada too, representing his city for some of the infrastructure funds that will be forthcoming from Ottawa....but that's another story. Staying home from the Florida cruise convention accomplishes absolutely nothing. Saying he should do is a very parochial way of looking at the world.

    • Critic
      March 04, 2016 - 12:55

      Why not send some of the tourism staff. I doubt very many cities send their mayors to these conferences, makes us look like a small town. The mayor should have more pressing concerns.

    • Em
      March 04, 2016 - 22:15

      I question, given how much learning, engagement and advocacy happens online now, whether it wasn't possible for the Mayor to represent St. John's at some of these events without the prohibitively expensive travel.

  • Brian
    March 04, 2016 - 08:40

    Better yet, look into trips taken by staff that received packages . Look at the trips and dates of retirement.

  • Winston Johnson
    March 04, 2016 - 08:25

    O'keefe will milk the city for whatever he can get out of it .

  • Harold Stapleton
    March 04, 2016 - 07:30

    Your choice of this story for a front page, bold treatment is the worst kind of tabloid journalism. He's the mayor and needs to travel. This is a page 10 small print kind of story, unless your editors are pandering to Trump-groupie readers.

    • Chebucto
      March 04, 2016 - 08:36

      Oh please - as taxpayers we deserve to see this information

    • @Gerald
      March 04, 2016 - 08:42

      Sure some travel is to be expected but don't you think almost 4 grand per trip is a lot. I just looked this up on, I could fly to Hawaii on a return trip tomorrow for a week for $$2094.16. Seven nights in a hotel at $150 a night gives a total of $3144.16. I think his spending is really out of control. Florida is a pretty cheap place for hotels and food costs. What is he spending all this money on? I assume they are trying to wine and dine cruise ship executives, which I suppose is the point of the trip so it may be somewhat justified.

    • Supporter of accountability
      March 04, 2016 - 09:31

      I agree the mayor needs to travel on appropriate business. As remarked by one contributor the tourist professionals should be the representatives at Seatrade Also interesting that Halifax doesn't send the mayor. THE DAYS OF NOT QUESTIONING THOSE AT THE "TOP" ARE LONG GONE.

    • steve
      March 04, 2016 - 13:39

      Yet you still read it.

  • steve
    March 04, 2016 - 07:27

    So its official. Dennis O keefe the mayor spends more time in Florida than Mickey Mouse. And all on your property tax dime.

  • JC
    March 04, 2016 - 07:12

    I wonder if Galgay is flapping his gums about the expense claims considering he took only 3 trips and has cost us, the tax payer, over $12,000.00. I doubt that. Something seriously wrong with this picture. Next thing they will be giving themselves another raise, which some off them don't deserve.

    • Chebucto
      March 04, 2016 - 08:37

      But we have no money for sidewalk snowclearing!!

  • Critic
    March 04, 2016 - 07:10

    What are the mayor and Galgay charging to the taxpayers? Their average cost per trip is far higher than the others listed.

  • j ryan
    March 04, 2016 - 06:24

    It is interesting that other Atlantic Canadian cities, that have many more cruise ships then St. John's, are NOT represented at Sea Trade by their Mayors. The city staff and Cruise NL staff and representatives are more then capable of representing us at Sea Trade. The Mayor is not needed, tourism professionals are.

  • Bob Hallett
    March 04, 2016 - 05:58

    Once again, O'Keefe falls back on self-serving nonsense to defend the indefensible. It would make more sense, and be cheaper, to send a marketing professional to Florida, but he is going himself. Why? Because he wants to. And while he talks about the benefits to the city of travel, remember that this is the same Council that sent Planner Dave Blackmore to Whistler BC, at a cost of over $3300, and then gave him early retirement barely a few weeks later. What possible benefit did the tax payers derive from that?

    • Joe
      March 04, 2016 - 09:36

      It shows that whoever sent Mr. Blackmore to whistler must have been whistling dixie. Poor leadership.

    • steve
      March 04, 2016 - 11:27

      It has been said Bob that when you have people with no shame in a place with no rules such as the Senate people take great liberties with other peoples money .It would seem SJCH falls squarely into this category.

    • Brad Strong
      March 05, 2016 - 08:29

      As a business person, I don't not see anything extravagant about this....

  • Brian
    March 04, 2016 - 05:31

    I have an idea to cut the mayors travel expense. Give him a one way ticket and allow him to work his way back on one of the cruise ships that come to the City. O'Keefe has been touting the cruise ship industry for years and pulls numbers out of the air to justify his vacations down south and to the west coast. This nonsense won't stop until he is gone .

  • Me
    March 03, 2016 - 21:34

    BS. Come on Doc, we're not that stupid. We know what goes on at conventions. You DO NOT need to go.

    • Not Gullible
      March 04, 2016 - 15:45

      We can't be conned any longer.

  • Dee
    March 03, 2016 - 19:33

    He should be investagated.

  • Permanent Vacation
    March 03, 2016 - 18:45

    Maybe instead of all the travel Dennis could hold a pothole convention. There he could showcase some of the oldest potholes in north america marked only with a single small sign in the center of the road. He could show off the permanent "caution potholes ahead" signs. St John's has all this and no road lines and annual tax increases to boot.

  • Fed Up Taxpayer!
    March 03, 2016 - 18:24

    Make no wonder council raised the taxes. It must be great to travel especially when the taxpayer have to cover the cost. Disgusting! What about teleconferencing I'm sure it would be cheaper. O'keefe is so arrogant and he just loves to have control. I sure hope he and the rest of em at city hall will run in the next election and neither one of em gets elected, A total bunch of imbeciles..

    • Robb
      March 04, 2016 - 12:34

      Hey Fed Up Taxpayer.....someone finally hit the nail on the head. With all the technology in the world today, most companies and organizations hold there meetings online with WebEx, Skype, GoToMeeting.....I mean the list goes on. All the computers and bandwidth are in place......makes you wonder.

  • B
    March 03, 2016 - 18:23

    Totally ridiculous in today's world of fiscal restraint. They have no shame.