Councillors at odds over gala ticket

Corisa Bell criticized for expense claimed for school gala

Maple Ridge council: Mayor Ernie Daykin and councillors Corisa Bell

Maple Ridge council: Mayor Ernie Daykin and councillors Corisa Bell

Veteran Maple Ridge Coun. Cheryl Ashlie doesn’t think first-term Coun. Corisa Bell should claim as an expense the price of a ticket to attend a private gala.

Bell claimed $250 for a ticket in November to attend a fundraiser for Meadowridge School, an independent institution that her eight-year-old daughter attends.

“I think it’s inappropriate that she did it,” Ashlie said Wednesday. “Common sense tells you, that would not be appropriate.”

She added that “Meadowridge by Moonlight” is a fundraiser for capital projects for the private school.

Ashlie wants to tighten up two sections in the councillor expenses policy that allow municipal politicians to attend networking events.

“I don’t think we should be paying for things, just so people can network.”

Bell, though, said attending the event helped improve relations with Meadowridge and that the school draws people and money to Maple Ridge.

But Ashlie said Bell could have just introduced herself to school administration as a district councillor and asked how to improve the relationship or help the school?

“I don’t need an epiphany at a gala, at $250 a ticket, to figure that out,” Ashlie said. “And that is hypocrisy that I continually see I’m frustrated with.”

Bell’s expenses of $7,819 for the first 11 months of 2013 exceeded the $5,000 allotted to each councillor for the year for training, education and networking. Her expenses were the highest among all councillors.

The next highest was Coun. Al Hogarth at $5,838.

Councillors shouldn’t exceed the $5,000, said Ashlie.

“It shows you’re able to manage money – the public’s money. If you’re given $5,000, you shouldn’t be spending more than $5,000.”

Bell said she can’t understand the objection. It’s only the second time Bell attended the gala. She paid for her own ticket the first time she attended.

“It’s really unfair that an elected official would feel that way because Meadowridge School brings a lot to the community,” Bell said. “They are one of the best schools in the world and they are our in our community. They bring families to our community from all over the world, bring a lot of money to our community, so I very much beg to differ.”

Bell questions spending the time to change the policy on expenses when council has other issues.

The Meadowridge gala invitations were given to all councillors and Bell said she was never told she shouldn’t attend.

“It’s surprising to me why the mayor hasn’t [been] for five years.”

Mayor Ernie Daykin said he hasn’t been to any of the school’s gala fundraisers, but has attended many events at Meadowridge.

“We’ve supported them and there’s been cross linkages over the years. They have definitely not been ignored, in my view, or taken for granted at all.”

There’s no policy saying councillors can’t attend fundraisers, he added. But some people may view Bell having her child in the school then attending the gala “as just too close a connection.”

He added if his church was holding a fundraiser, he’d pay for his own ticket.

The current Commercial and Industrial Strategy in Maple Ridge says the district should focus on private education because it provides jobs.

“Why aren’t we talking about this,” Bell asked.

She isn’t being criticized for attending several municipal council conferences. But Ashlie, as a second-term councillor, now has several contacts within municipal government so such conferences aren’t that important to her.

“I personally know for a fact, everything after 7 p.m. is just partying.”

All the councillors, including Ashlie, who attended the Ridge Meadows Hospital Foundation gala – a fundraiser for a public institution – in October and claimed the $175 ticket as an expense.

See related editorial: The height of hypocrisy