St. John’s mayor tops council in travel expenses

Councillors’ travel claims down 17.8 per cent in 2015

Daniel MacEachern dmaceachern@thetelegram.com
Published on March 3, 2016
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.

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

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.