Auditor probes City Hall gift complaint
Manager says he did nothing wrong accepting playoff tickets from waste firm
The city’s auditor general is investigating complaints that senior city managers and other employees accepted Senators playoff tickets from companies the city does business with, including the owners of the Carp Road dump.
“We had complaints to the fraud and waste hotline about employees taking gifts, i.e. hockey tickets, and we are investigating,” Auditor General Alain Lalonde said.
The city has a policy against employees accepting gifts that states, essentially, if a company the city does business with or might do business with offers anything more than a trinket or a meal, employees should refuse the offer.
Mr. Lalonde would not confirm which employees are the subject of the complaints. However, the
Citizen has learned one complaint focuses on deputy city manager Richard Hewitt and several other city employees who were spotted at a Senators playoff game in a corporate box owned by Waste Management of Canada.
The company owns the Carp Road dump and is in the process of trying to get approval from the province to expand the landfill or build an incinerator at the site. The expansion is opposed by residents, the mayor and city councillors for the area near the dump.
Mr. Hewitt is deputy city manager of public works and services. His department is in control of waste collection and disposal and is tasked with representing the city’s interests during the landfill expansion application process, which is controlled by the provincial Environment Ministry.
Mr. Hewitt confirmed Friday that he and other city employees accepted Senators tickets from the company and attended the game. He also said city councillors were in the box as guests of the company, too. However, he refused to name the other employees or councillors.
Mr. Hewitt said he doesn’t think he has violated the city’s code.
“I feel I am in line with the city policy,” he said. “I try to be cognizant of the policy on all occasions. There’s a certain business element to these situations.”
Bay Ward Councillor Alex Cullen disagrees.
“The city’s code of conduct says staff aren’t supposed to receive benefits from the people we do business with,” he said. “It’s clear, and I think accepting valuable, hard-to-get playoff tickets, is a clear violation of the code.”
Stittsville-Kanata West Councillor Shad Qadri wouldn’t comment directly on the city staff at the Waste Management box. However, he said he would never accept tickets or anything else from a company doing business with the city.
“It’s against the code of conduct, and I would never put myself in that position,” he said. “I was invited to a couple games, but I turned them down.”
Mr. Lalonde said he will investigate all complaints about improper conduct that could be perceived as a conflict of interest. He could not say when his investigation would be complete.
Several sources, some of whom have contacted the fraud and waste hotline, have also told the Citizen about other city employees accepting gifts. These include the city’s director of infrastructure services, Wayne Newell, receiving hockey tickets and rounds of golf from companies the city does business with.
Mr. Newell did not return phone calls to his office on Friday and could not be reached yesterday.
The city’s code of employee ethics addresses the issue.
“The city must avoid both the reality and the appearance of impropriety with the organizations or individuals with whom it deals,” the code says.
“Therefore, employees shall neither offer nor accept any gifts, favours, hospitality or entertainment that could reasonably be construed as being given in anticipation of future, or recognition of past, ‘special consideration’ by the city.”
However, the policy does make exceptions.
“Hospitality may be acceptable within strict limits as a part of some reciprocal business relationships or to develop a network which is of benefit to the city. An employee may pay for or accept customary business hospitality, such as meals,” the policy states.
In such cases, the expenses must be at a “reasonable level,” “infrequent,” “clearly be seen as legitimately serving a definite business purpose,” and “appropriately related to the responsibilities of the individual.”
“By way of example, promotional items of nominal value (e.g. mugs, hats, shirts, pens) are considered acceptable,” the policy states.
Mr. Cullen said it’s clear to him that NHL playoff hockey tickets are outside the acceptable range of things described in the policy, and that having a senior city manager thinking it’s OK to accept them shows the city needs an integrity commission.
“We discussed having one before, but we decided we didn’t need one, but this shows we do,” he said. “Playoff tickets are not in the normal course of business, and I find it troubling that those types of things could be seen as appropriate to take.”