A Calgary city councillor is backtracking calls for the mayor to fire the integrity commissioner, who recused himself over a potential conflict of interest in an investigation into Ward 2 Councillor Joe Magliocca’s controversial expense claims.
On Wednesday, both councillors Jyoti Gondek and Jeff Davison said the integrity commissioner should be dismissed after it came to light that he went for lunch with Magliocca in July 2019 — a lunch which Magliocca later expensed to the city. The commissioner said he didn’t know until recently that city taxpayers had been billed for the $163 lunch.
“Absolutely, in my opinion, the integrity commissioner should have known better,” Davison said Wednesday morning.
“I think at this point to really focus on rebuilding public trust over this matter, it would be very appropriate of council… to direct the mayor to release the integrity commissioner from his position.”
Davison and Gondek said the notice of motion calling for commissioner Sal LoVecchio’s dismissal would be filed at the City Clerk’s Office by the end of the day Wednesday.
“The notice of motion really addresses a few different things,” Gondek said early Wednesday. “First of all, what is the process that is now going to be followed to look into the expense claims?
“Secondly, the integrity commissioner should probably be released from responsibilities. To have put yourself in a conflict like this, I don’t know why we would keep that person on.”
Late Wednesday, however, Gondek said she’d changed her tune and would instead be filing a motion by Thursday calling for LoVecchio to explain himself before council, as well as to determine how the investigation into the Ward 2 expenses would continue.
“This is an individual who did the right thing and recused themselves from a process, but who does he fall back on now? What does the policy say about if you are in a position where you have to do a recusal, who fills in for you?” Gondek said. “So I want to know if that support was in place, and if it wasn’t, then we need to beef that up.”
When asked if she still felt that LoVecchio should still be fired, she said it shouldn’t be up to councillors, and that her earlier statements were made too soon.
“I think I would be hypocritical — where I’m trying to remove council from certain decisions — for me to turn around and say council should be responsible for letting this person go,” Gondek said.
Davison said he still thought the mayor should dismiss the integrity commissioner and that he wants the Calgary Police Service to investigate Magliocca’s expense claims.
Gondek also said council should also remove itself from policing any expenses in the future, as is the case now.
“There is a governance gap,” Gondek said.
“There is a committee, the council coordinating committee. It oversees a lot of the expenses and policies and practices of council members. It puts the members of that committee, who are members council, in a very awkward position of overseeing their colleagues. That has to stop.”
‘Simply a social lunch’ — LoVecchio
LoVecchio released a public statement late Tuesday saying he had to recuse himself from investigating concerns over Magliocca’s expense claims.
The councillor asked to be reimbursed $6,400 from taxpayers money after the 2019 Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Quebec City.
The amount was about twice that of any other Calgary councillor in attendance.
Maglicocca apologized in council, vowing to pay back some of the costs but there are lingering doubts.
The integrity commissioner admitted he was in the process of starting an investigation before going through his own records when he realized he dined with Magliocca last July.
“It was simply a social lunch,” LoVecchio wrote in the statement. “As is often the case, who pays at these social lunches may vary from time to time.
“Councillor Magliocca indicated he wished to pay. I did not object, I simply said if there was to be another one, it would be for my account.
“In the last 24 hours, it has come to my attention that Councillor Magliocca expensed that lunch to his councillor account and obtained reimbursement.
“The taxpayers of the city of Calgary should not be paying for a social lunch of mine and I am deeply concerned to find out that this has occurred.”
Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said council wasn’t handling the scandal well at all, calling the whole situation “quite appalling.”
“I could see a scenario where both of them will have to step down,” Bratt said.
“Magliocca, ironically, is a bit more protected because he is an elected official — it would be easier to remove the integrity commissioner than Magliocca. But I think there’s going to be continued pressure on him either to go through a full-scale investigation or calls for his resignation.”
As of publication, Magliocca had informed Global News that he was preparing to release a statement of his own. Later, Global News was told Magliocca would not be commenting Wednesday.
On Wednesday evening, Mayor Naheed Nenshi issued a statement about the matter.
“I’ve been deeply concerned about transparency and accountability since before I was elected,” the statement read. “That’s why I’ve championed the code of conduct and better disclosure of council expenses since I took this office.
“Clearly, we need to examine the conduct of the councillor in this case, and we should close the loophole around disclosure of centrally claimed expenses that this incident has unearthed. Furthermore, the integrity commissioner did exactly the right thing in recusing himself from this case.”