Pitt Meadows paying for mayor’s course in civic engagement

Inconsistent with city’s past zero-tax philosophy, contend critics

Mayor John Becker is taking a course with fees covered by the taxpayer.

Mayor John Becker is taking a course with fees covered by the taxpayer.

Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker won approval to take a $5,500 university course in civic engagement, despite opposition from two councillors.

Coun. Tracy Miyashita said council is being inconsistent in its approach to spending.

“This council ran on a zero increase for taxes, and we did that by making some tough decisions,” said Miyashita.

“And one of those decision was really watching our spending as councillors, and I think we need to continue that same approach every year.”

She said she supports continuing education and has paid for courses on her own. Miyashita would prefer to see the city “bring somebody in” so council and staff could learn as group.

Council did approve the expenditure and funding of $5,500 from the operating reserve fund for Becker’s registration in the Certificate in Dialogue and Civic Engagement certificate program at Simon Fraser University.

“Our procedures have fallen behind the expectations of our residents,” said Becker.

He added that the course is designed to teach how to engage an entire community, not just those who keep themselves apprised of civic issues.

“In the context of not doing a good job in this particular type of area, it’s not a lot of money,” he said.

Rebecca Vaughan, who handles communications for Pitt Meadows, is also taking the program at the city’s expense.

Coun. Janis Elkerton supported the expenditure.

“I’m a firm believer in continuing education. I believe life should be a continuing education,” she said.

Coun. Bill Dingwall noted that councillors receive a stipend of $700 per councillor, and $1,000 for the mayor for annual professional development.

He noted the mayor’s request did not come before the start of the course, which started last week, and said he accepted that the mayor could finance the course on his own.

“It’s not mandatory for the position. It just isn’t,” said Dingwall.

He said Vaughan could take the course and brief all of council about the ideas presented.

“Continuing education is important for everybody – absolutely,” said Dingwall. “That’s not what this is about. This is about whether or not it should be public funds that are paying for it.”

Dingwall also said funding the course is inconsistent with council’s zero per cent tax increase philosophy, and added that a few months ago the city turned down a request for $1,000 to aid fire victims in Fort McMurray.

Elkerton noted the city’s operating reserve fund currently has a balance of $655,000.