Toronto trustees forced to repay questionable expenses

By 
  • November 14, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - Alcoholic drinks, Internet gaming and personalized vehicle licence plates were some of the $30,000 worth of questionable expenses charged to taxpayers by Toronto Catholic District School Board trustees, according to a Nov. 12 audit report.

The report by Ernst & Young, which did not identify trustees by name, said $914,013 of the $943,783 in trustees' total expenses from Dec. 1, 2005, to May 28, 2008, were deemed eligible. Eligible expenses included Internet connection charges, office furniture, charitable donations and advertising expenses, the report said.
The questionable expenses were those which were prohibited by school board policy, inconsistent with a trustee's duties or did not have supporting documentation to verify the expense.

Ontario Education Minister Kathleen Wynne has said she will hand over the matter to the police.

Les Nemes, the board's director of education, said in a Nov. 13 statement that the board understands “the upset and anger” over the scandal which has plagued the board since media reports emerged about a year ago about trustees' expenses, which led to a scathing report by its government-appointed supervisor Norbert Hartmann. Much of the heat fell on former trustee Christine Nunziata, who it was found billed the board for her honeymoon trip, among other expenses. Nunziata was removed from the board in February for missing too many meetings.

“We are committed to being accountable and transparent regarding all expenses of the board,” he said. “It is time to move forward to enhance public confidence.”

According to the report, $10,337 of ineligible expenses has been repaid by trustees, though one unnamed trustee has refused to repay $918.

“The trustee disagrees with our assessment of the expenses and has declined to repay these amounts,” the report said.

The trustee, only identified as “Trustee A” in the report, was found to have $918 in “ineligible expenses” for a gold ring, sun lamp and personalized licence plates. But “Trustee A” has repaid $373 of ineligible expenses for duplicate claims, Internet gaming charges, luggage and a car wash.

The report also said it was unable to assess the eligibility of $2,940 of expenses claimed by “Trustee A” which included “an expense where the supporting documentation is ineligible, a meal receipt with a tip representing a gratuity amount higher than 40 per cent, and unexplained meal and food charges.” It added that the trustee's “potentially ineligible expenses also include purchase card transactions for which receipts or explanations could not be provided.”

But the report has also said it found “policy weaknesses” which are consistent with Hartmann's previous findings.

"Expense policies for trustees either did not ensure that documentation submitted with expense claims was sufficient to demonstrate eligibility or there did not appear to be sufficient enforcement of the submission of receipts," according to the report commissioned by Wynne.

“Policies were silent on a number of common trustee practices, including attending events and making donations to community organizations,” it said.

And the report concluded that “no restrictions were placed on how much can be expended on any expense item, beyond the overall limit of the annual trustee expense budget.”

A copy of the report entitled “Trustee Expense Reconciliation” can be found on the Catholic board's web site: http://www.tcdsb.org/.

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