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