Earlier this week, OpenFile did the thing that media outlets do where you spend some time going through the public expense records of councillors trying to find things that look like wasteful spending. (I did it too.) They hit upon a good one with Councillor Michael Thompson, reporting that he spent $300 to have his office blessed Pastor Dr. Tai Adeboboye, who in addition to doing office blessings also owns a spectacularly great suit.
Anyway, a lot of shock and horror and reaction about this supposedly improper use of funds followed. It all led to this, as reported by David Rider:
Councillor Michael Thompson is refunding taxpayers the $300 he charged to his office budget to have his office blessed by a Baptist pastor.
“I will provide the city with a cheque for the $300 and at the same time ask the integrity commissioner to take a look at this and rule on it,” Thompson (Ward 37 Scarborough Centre) said in an interview Friday.
This was a giant waste of everyone’s time.
The angle from the left is that Thompson is a hypocrite, supporting Ford’s stop-the-gravy-train message while at the same time dealing “gravy” himself in the form of office blessings for $300. The angle from the right is the same as it always is: the ideal councillor would work in a cave and never do anything that costs money. Respect for taxpayers.
Joe Mihevc actually did a nice job coming to Thompson’s defense in the original Star article. He said that this was “an ‘interesting and creative and dynamic’ way of making a community donation.”
If we want to debate anything about this, it should be that last part: should councillors be allowed to make donations to community groups like churches, charities, youth programs and neighbourhood associations out of their office budget? Some, like Doug Holyday, would like to see councillors banned from making community donations. He says they should pay those bills themselves. Which seems like a great way to encourage residents to vote for millionaire candidates who, if elected, will donate to the local sports team.
Some clarification on this is probably a good idea (particularly with regard to whether councillors should be able to publicize the donation), but it would be a shame to eliminate the practice altogether. Sometimes a couple of hundred bucks given to a group so they can hold a barbecue can have a significant impact on a community.
Mostly, though, I think people just need to stop losing their heads over this stuff.