The concept is simple enough: Public money should be used for public purposes, not for personal spending sprees or to subsidize lavish lifestyles.
Not everyone seems to grasp that concept, though. The latest proof is the $131,000 in credit-card purchases racked up in less than four years by former Greater Victoria Public Library CEO Barry Holmes.
Holmes's purchases included $500 worth of body cream, groceries, music downloads from iTunes and HMV, and other items that don't appear to fall within the normal expenses a CEO would incur in the line of duty.
Holmes was hired in September 2006 and terminated "without cause" in March 2010. When he went to Windsor, Ont., as CEO of the public library there, he apparently took his spending habits with him, and in less than two years, charged more than $67,000 on his corporate credit card, including $2,000 for antiques. His expenses came to light when Windsor city council began investigating the expense account of the library board chairman, Coun. Al Maghnieh, who had spent $8,000 over four months with his library credit card. Maghnieh and Holmes had been signing for each other's expenses.
It gives a whole new meaning to library card. Maghnieh was docked three months' pay and Holmes sank out of sight.
The Windsor case triggered the Times Colonist's look at Holmes's expenses while he was here.
Besides being an improper use of public money, this sort of behaviour erodes confidence in government and other public entities. The many hardworking and honest people who serve in various capacities get unfairly tarred with the same tawdry brush.
But some of the blame must go to poor oversight. Holmes was answerable to the Victoria library board, yet the chairman at the time saw nothing unusual about the expenses. The library board says it has since tightened up its procedures concerning employee expenses.
Central Saanich's municipal council should also take a look at its procedures and learn from the case of Coun. Terry Siklenka, who was given a six-month paid leave from council duties and is apparently working in the Cayman Islands.
The amount involved in that case, about $6,000, is peanuts compared to other cases, but it seems to indicate a cavalier disregard for taxpayers' money. Why should Siklenka continue to be paid when he was not doing the job for which he was elected? After voters and other members of council raised questions, Siklenka resigned his seat on Monday.
The solution is simple enough. Set clear and firm spending guidelines and make the spenders account for every expenditure.
And get that accountability completely out in the open. It's our money - we have a right and a moral obligation to see how it's spent.
At a time when budgets are being squeezed, it's downright obscene to spend taxpayers' dollars on body cream, $16 glasses of orange juice and sojourns in the Caymans.
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