A Calgary committee is asking Ward 2 Coun. Joe Magliocca to repay the balance of what he overspent on airfare while travelling to various Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) events. The motion passed unanimously.
The city hired accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PWC) to do an investigation into Magliocca’s expenses at FCM events between Nov. 2017 and July 2019.
On many flights, the councillor upgraded his seat from economy class — the policy-mandated selection for councillor travel. Any upgrades are supposed to be covered by the individual councillor.
By comparing other City of Calgary staff flights to the same FCM events, PWC found the councillor overspent on seven flights with differences ranging from $38.70 to $899.11. The report found Magliocca spent $3,294.25 total in seat upgrades.
PWC found Magliocca’s net travel claims totalled $36,687.10. The report said $20,782.38 in expenses were in line with councillor policies. The amount found to be out of line with policy was $5,657.
Another $10,247.72 of expenses was forwarded to the priorities and finance committee (PFC) to decide on whether those were appropriate expenses.
Airfare, personal meals, hosting expenses and room accommodations were areas in which Magliocca was found to have overspent the $5,657.
Following reporting by Postmedia of his overspending, Magliocca paid back $4,477.38 to the city.
He then paid another $1,743.28 when he reviewed of the draft report by PWC, totalling $6,220.66 — $563.66 more than the forensic accountants determined he overspent on.
Tuesday, PFC decided to ask Magliocca to count that surplus towards this seat upgrades and asked him to pay $2,730.59.
Magliocca confirmed to Global News that he intended to pay it all back.
In a text message, Magliocca said he “made the request months ago to voluntarily repay any airfare costs that were in excess of other councillors, which I am in the process of doing.”
“I have always intended to follow city policies strictly and, as I previously stated, I apologize if I was in error.”
Magliocca pointed to being overweight and seeking roomier seats as the reason for the seat upgrades.
“Over the last couple years, I made a commitment to be more healthy and I have lost nearly 100 pounds,” Magliocca wrote.
There’s still $1,380.99 in hosting-related expenses that still have to be decided on.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi said there are gaps in the process to keep councillors accountable on expenses.
“It seems clear to me that although the vast majority, the vast, vast majority of these claims are legit,” Nenshi said. “When there are ones that are problematic, we need a more robust system for how to handle it, and that will come back to us later this year.
“Elected officials are not really employees of the city; they can’t be fired or disciplined by the city. They can only be disciplined by council or by the minister of municipal affairs if they violate the code of conduct.”
Municipal Affairs not stepping in
In August, the mayor wrote to then Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu about Magliocca’s expenses.
Minister Tracy Allard, who replaced Madu in Municipal Affairs, responded on Sep. 23, saying she was “pleased to hear” council investigated the matter and is enforcing the code of conduct bylaw.
“I am also satisfied to see that council has taken the additional step of reviewing all ward and mayoral offices, and is implementing improvements to address gaps in current policies and procedures,” Allard wrote.
“I trust these measures will increase accountability and transparency for councillor expenses.”
The mayor said Tuesday’s request for payment was all the city could do.
“We’ve gone to the furthest extent of our authority,” Nenshi said. “But ultimately, the real authority lies in the hands of the voters, lies in the hands of the public.”