Following forensic investigations by Calgary’s auditors office and an external firm, the newly elected chair of the city committee that oversees councillor expense policies is slated to speak out Monday about issues with how councillor’s expenses are approved.
Ward 13 city councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart was recently elected as chair of the Council Coordinating Committee for the Office of the Councillors.
In her first six weeks in the role, city council’s longest serving councillor said she has already discovered challenges with how expenses are submitted for approval.
“I have looked at receipts that are photocopied and I can’t even tell what they are,” Colley-Urquhart said.
“There are names written on expense receipts that are hand written and you don’t know what the association is or who it is really. I have expense claims submitted that were from January of this year. So it’s all different practices.”
Colley-Urquhart said there are governance and policy gaps in how councillor expenses are handled, including expenditures that have been approved in the past.
“There has been a lot of past practice where stuff has been signed off on that maybe there was policy there,” Colley-Urquhart said. “But the stuff that was signed off on didn’t always follow the policy that was there.”
Now, the committee is working to overhaul expense practices to align them with financial policies within the City of Calgary, and to make the policies and expense claims transparent for Calgarians.
Colley-Urquhart vowed to not give approval to expense claims moving forward that don’t comply with the city’s financial policies. She said there also won’t be any justification for claims that were approved in the past.
Audits into council expenses
Back in February, councillor Jyoti Gondek brought forward a notice of motion to launch a forensic investigation into councillor Joe Magliocca’s expense claims, after reports from Postmedia raised questions about the Ward 2 representative’s expense claims.
Councillors Sean Chu and Jeromy Farkas asked that the investigation also look into expenses from every member of council.
The audit, which did not include Magliocca’s expenses because his expenses were being investigated by an external firm, found the majority of expenses claimed “were generally in adherence to council policy.”
However, the audit did find “systemic issues exist that require prompt resolution in order to maintain effective accountability and transparency regarding use of council and mayor budgets.”
The issues identified in the audit pointed to the need for better clarity in city councillor expense policies, improved processes including expense approvals, more enforcement of compliance, better timeliness for submitting expense claims, and more training for councillors on expectations for those claims.
Meanwhile, the city hired accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PWC) to do an investigation into Magliocca’s expenses at Federation of Canadian Municipality events between Nov. 2017 and July 2019.
Airfare, personal meals, hosting expenses and room accommodations were areas in which Magliocca was found to have overspent $5,657.
Magliocca has since paid back a total of $6,220.66 — $563.66 more than the forensic accountants determined he overspent.
In October, a city committee asked Magliocca to count that surplus towards seat upgrades on flights that were found ineligible and asked him to pay $2,730.59.
Magliocca has been sanctioned following the investigation into his expense claims, and the investigation has been forwarded to RCMP.
“He went into council and he stood up and he apologized and I admire him for that,” Colley-Urquhart said. “I don’t want to totally let him off the hook and say he was a victim of circumstance but there’s a lot to be questioned in the past practice, how things were approved before. And I think it’s unfair for him to be singled out solely.”
The Ward 2 representative did not return Global News’ request for comment.
On Monday, city council will hear an update on the progress of the committee so far from Colley-Urquhart, along with officials from the city solicitors’ office and ethics advisor.
“There’s a new sheriff in town,” Colley-Urquhart said. “This, as they say on the farm, is not going to fly anymore.”