City staff’s Trump trip broke rules
Instead of renting a van, group with Sunshine List members rode to Washington in city vehicle without permission
A group of city of Hamilton employees who took part in the massive anti-Trump women’s march in Washington last month were in breach of city policies.
The staffers used a city van without permission to get to Washington and conducted out-of-country city business without proper authorization.
Joe-Anne Priel, general manager of community and emergency services, was the ranking staffer among the seven employees.
Priel should have gotten authorization for the travel and use of the van from city manager Chris Murray. She didn’t.
In an email to Murray and councillors, Priel explained the group used the city van because they were conducting business while in Washington, specifically visiting community hubs and picking up “ideas which we are keen to implement.”
The question is, did they book the hub visits before or after the decision to take part in the Washington march?
The answer is a muddy as the optics.
Priel said via email that the visits were booked “almost concurrently” with the decision to join the march and she simply thought if they were doing city business they could use a city vehicle.
Asked why the group didn’t just rent a van, Priel responded, “I didn’t look at the policy,” adding the issue is “very painful” for her.
No doubt. During Priel’s 16 years with the city, she’s built a golden reputation as a passionate advocate for the poor and underprivileged.
Because of her record, her sup-
port for women’s rights, and her distaste for Trump, many may be willing to turn a blind eye to her policy breaches.
But rules and policies are supposed to apply to everyone, the Queen bee as well as the worker bees.
Senior managers not only need to understand the rules, the public and front-line workers count on them to exercise good judgment.
Interestingly, this story began with a call to the Spec from a city worker who’d seen a photo in the paper of Priel and the other staffers at the Washington march. Among other things, he wondered if the trip had been expensed.
I asked Murray, Murray asked Priel, Priel said it hadn’t been. Unfortunately, however, she apparently neglected to disclose the city van piece. That came to light when Coun. Donna Skelly, who had also been contacted by someone, asked about the van.
That triggered Priel’s email to city officials in which she described the group’s hub visits, acknowledged they had used a city van, and explained they had “expensed none of the trip.”
According to Priel, they left Hamilton on a Friday, returned on a Tuesday. Friday and Tuesday were booked as vacation days. They marched on Saturday, visited the hubs Monday and worked on email the rest of the time.
It all sounds perfectly reasonable and responsible. Until you recall they took the van and engaged in city business without permission.
Bear in mind, renting their own vehicle would have been a snap. Priel’s annual salary is $206,000 and two of the other staffers on the road trip are on the Sunshine List for public sector employees who make $100,000 or higher.
As far as Murray is concerned, it’s now a dead issue.
“I can say that Joe-Anne and I have discussed this matter and we would both agree that, hindsight being what it is, she should have asked for written permission from me to use the city vehicle,” he said via email.
Given that relevant info was brought back about community hubs and after discussing the matter with human resources, Murray says he’s satisfied the matter has been appropriately addressed.
Fair enough, as long as in the future the same understanding will be applied to worker bees who neglect to follow the rules.
Meanwhile, hopefully Priel and her colleagues appreciate the irony that their cavalier behaviour conforms perfectly with Trump’s criticisms of elites, a not inconsiderable factor in his election victory.
Their cavalier behaviour conforms perfectly with Trump’s criticisms of elites, a factor in his election victory.
Joe-Anne Priel, far left, and six other city employees drove down to Washington to participate in the Women’s March last month.