They spent four times more than they told tax­pay­ers

City man­ager prom­ises to ‘get off my ass and get go­ing’ with re­forms to Cal­gary’s ex­pense-dis­clo­sure rules thes­tar.com

StarMetro Calgary - - FRONT PAGE - GRAPHIC: TORONTO STAR

High-rank­ing city of­fi­cials claimed at least four times more in ex­penses than pre­vi­ously re­ported over a three-year pe­riod, doc­u­ments ob­tained by StarMetro show.

Hun­dreds of claims to­talling nearly $180,000 were sub­mit­ted by city man­ager Jeff Field­ing and sev­eral gen­eral man­agers from 2015 through 2017, ac­cord­ing to StarMetro’s anal­y­sis.

But the city’s web­site re­ports their ex­penses as to­talling only $42,123 for the same pe­riod. And, since the web­site is the only means by which the city re­ports staff ex­penses, tax­pay­ers had no way of know­ing about the discrepancy.

StarMetro re­viewed more than 1,400 pages of ex­pense state­ments filed by Field­ing, gen­eral man­agers (who each over­see sev­eral busi­ness units) and other high-rank­ing of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the city so­lic­i­tor, city clerk and nearly three dozen directors, who each man­age a spe­cific depart­ment, such as roads or hous­ing.

The records were ob­tained through a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quest in April 2018 and took the city more than five months to pro­duce.

City hall’s ex­ist­ing prac­tice is to an­nu­ally dis­close ex­penses in­curred by the city man­ager and gen­eral man­agers for charges re­lated to meals/host­ing and em­ployee recog­ni­tion/men­tor­ing. The city re­veals only the to­tal amounts for each job ti­tle and claims that fall un­der those two cat­e­gories.

Ex­penses re­lated to out-oftown travel, con­fer­ences, pro­fes­sional mem­ber­ship dues, phone bills, cour­ses, park­ing, and other odds and ends (such as pur­chases on iTunes) are not pub­licly dis­closed by the city — a prac­tice that trails many other Cana­dian ju­ris­dic­tions and leaves cit­i­zens largely in the dark on how their tax dol­lars are spent.

Field­ing ac­knowl­edged “short­com­ings” with cur­rent poli­cies and promised to im­ple­ment a more com­pre­hen­sive sys­tem “fairly soon.”

“Let’s face it, your in­quiry has been use­ful from the stand­point of say­ing, ‘You know what, get off my ass and get go­ing with this,” said Field­ing, who, records show, ex­pensed at least $26,429.25 from 2015 to 2017 com­pared to the $8,809.75 pre­vi­ously dis­closed by the city.

“While we have a min­i­mum, that min­i­mum stan­dard doesn’t cover ev­ery­thing off, so it needs to be bet­ter,” he added. “It ap­pears to me as if the pro­vin­cial ini­tia­tive is, now I would say, a stan­dard that we should look at as a best prac­tice, and I don’t see any rea­son why we can’t move to that stan­dard.”

Field­ing noted the city is al­ready re­view­ing salary and ben­e­fit pack­ages for its em­ploy­ees and that he would now con­sider ad­di­tional changes to ex­pense claims, but he de­clined to elab­o­rate on what that new sys­tem would look like or when it could roll out.

Carla Male, act­ing chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, later clar­i­fied it could be in­tro­duced within the first quar­ter of 2019.

The records pro­vided ex­clu­sively to StarMetro show that about three dozen mem­bers of the city’s ad­min­is­tra­tive and lead­er­ship teams billed tax­pay­ers at least $657,000 from 2015 through 2017. The doc­u­ments vary in for­mat, or­ga­ni­za­tion, and speci­ficity.

The fig­ures cited in this story rep­re­sent the best pos­si­ble ac­count given the lim­i­ta­tions of the avail­able data. It also ex­cludes mil­lions of dol­lars ex­pensed each year by thou­sands of other city staff.

The story be­hind the story at thes­tar.com/cal­gary

“YOUR IN­QUIRY HAS BEEN USE­FUL FROM THE STAND­POINT OF SAY­ING, ‘YOU KNOW WHAT, GET OFF MY ASS AND GET GO­ING WITH THIS.’” Jeff Field­ing

HE­LEN PIKE/STARMETRO CAL­GARY FILE PHOTO

Cal­gary city man­ager Jeff Field­ing ac­knowl­edged “short­com­ings” with cur­rent poli­cies and promised to im­ple­ment a more com­pre­hen­sive sys­tem “fairly soon.”

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