February 7, 2019 2:47 pm
Updated: February 7, 2019 10:02 pm

After outcry, Edmonton councillor won’t use public money to fund Executive MBA

After revealing he would use public money to fund two-thirds of his MBA degree, Edmonton city councillor Jon Dzaidyk has changed his mind. Vinesh Pratap explains.

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An Edmonton city councillor has reversed his decision to use “discretionary public dollars” to help pay for an Executive MBA at the University of Alberta.

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In a blog post, Jon Dziadyk said he would personally pay for one-third of the tuition and cover the rest out of his ward account. He wrote that the course would expose him to new ideas in contemporary business thinking, which would be beneficial to his role on council, especially corporate culture and business sense.

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The university website lists the total cost of the program as $67,000, including “tuition, books, study materials, meals and parking while attending classes, and travel and accommodation costs for the International Study Tour.”

After posting about the MBA program Jan. 11, the Ward 3 councillor said Thursday he had decided to “voluntarily reimburse the City of Edmonton” for two-thirds of the program – about $45,000 – even though “no policies were violated.”

READ MORE: Veteran Edmonton councillor Dave Loken loses Ward 3 seat to Jon Dziadyk

Dziadyk said he will continue with the degree and would use his own money to fund his education.

“I’m very sorry I broke the trust of my constituents,” Dziadyk said Thursday afternoon.

“As a city councillor, it’s my duty to ensure every tax dollar is spent to benefit our city. With the tough economic times we’re facing here in Edmonton, I acknowledge using my work funds for professional development was not appropriate.”

He said he consulted with colleagues and constituents prior to signing up for the MBA program and said the feedback had mostly been positive. He admitted he didn’t divulge the cost of the program.

“I do regret that I did charge money initially. I see that that’s inappropriate. I’m just honestly trying to do my best,” Dziadyk said.

Currently, there is not a strict policy outlining what kinds of expenses the ward accounts cover, but the city is working on creating one. There are guidelines on the ward accounts.

Councillors are given $188,718 for their office expenses, which include office staff. Councillors cannot spend more than that amount. The city’s website shows Dziadyk can use an additional $1,175 to cover duties associated with serving as co-chair of the Edmonton Salutes Committee, which “promotes and recognizes our local military’s contributions, both home and abroad.”

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“A ward budget is very flexible and it’s intended to allow councillors to perform the duties of their office to the best of their ability,” Dziadyk said. “There is strong contemplation in there for professional development.”

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Ward 6 councillor Scott McKeen said every councillor needs to use their own judgement when using the ward accounts.

“I now have 2.5 staff members,” McKeen said, explaining where his ward funds go.

He contemplated taking a conflict resolution course and wondered if the cost would be an appropriate ward account expense.

“I thought that might be a really important course for a councillor to take… I thought about it and then I found out it was going to be $2,500 and it was going to require three sets of Thursday-Fridays,” McKeen said.

“I couldn’t justify the time or the expense to taxpayers, in my own mind.”

He said since being elected, he’s been very focused on the issue of public trust and is wary of any decision that could negatively impact Edmontonians’ trust in municipal officials.

READ MORE: Edmonton city councillors missing up to 16% of city meetings

In his blog, Dziadyk said he was completing the degree in his own time, that classes were mostly offered Thursdays through Sundays, once a month. He also pointed out his perfect attendance record at City Hall.

“I want people to realize that I’m not in any way trying to abuse the system,” Dziadyk told reporters Thursday.

“In fact, what I did was perfectly compliant. I did speak with the ethics commissioner, who suggested that no rules were broken. But of course, any time you’re using public funds as such there’s some additional considerations to take.

“The change of heart is really just in response to feedback I’ve received,” the Ward 3 councillor said.

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