The Vice-Chair of New Westminster's school board chair used $2,600 in public funds to buy himself a new computer to access his email
As 2009 draws to a close, there appears to be no shortage of controversial issues bubbling up to the surface for our municipal officials. The latest incident comes from my home community of New Westminster where it was revealed that trustee Michael Ewen, former Chair of the NW School Board, used $2,600 in public funds to buy himself a new MacBook Pro. Ewen has been a teacher in the Surrey School District for many years.
The Record newspaper was the first media outlet to break the story. Ewen defended his purchase by stating:
I had to buy a new computer. My computer had died. If I didn't have it, I wouldn't be able to receive e-mails.
Huh? Does he want us to believe that without the tax payers of New Westminster stepping in to the picture, he would be unable to send or receive email? Who is he kidding? Ewen made a total of $78,784 as a school teacher in the Surrey School District last year. In addition, he also earns a trustee salary of $21,514 from the New Wesminster School District. When you combine this with his spouse's income (she is a teacher with the District of New Westminster and earned $77,940.10 in 2008/09), he has a household income of at least $178,000. Therefore, given the grim fiscal situation facing the New Westminster School Board these days, the purchase of this computer can only be described as offensive.
The vast majority of New Westminster residents are not given tax dollars to purchase a computer, yet somehow they seem capable of accessing their email accounts? However, even if you do buy Ewen's argument that he needed a new computer in order to access his email, why did he need to spend $2,600 bucks on a Cadillac iMac system?
A cursory check of the Internet provides hundreds of lower cost options for personal computers. A basic Lenovo Thinkpad starts at $299 + tax. This is considerably less than what Ewen dished out for his Mac.
Ewen's trustee colleague Lisa Graham also purchased $2,456 worth of computer and technological equipment last year. Each trustee is afforded up to $1,000 per year over three years to purchase technology to help support their role as an elected official.Current policy allows for the annual allotment to be spent in one lump sum up to $3,000.
Kudos to Niki Hope for breaking this story earlier this week. Let's hope that Ewen and Graham are having second thoughts about their purchase now that the Record has helped so shed a bit of light on their expense claims. We're not holding our breath.
UPDATE CORRECTION: We have been advised by one of our readers that Michael McQuillan at the New Westminster Newsleader broke this story, not the Record as we originally reported.
- Post by Daniel