As a city committee works to overhaul how council expense claims are handled, Calgary city council approved a temporary proposal that will allow city staff to oversee councillors’ expenditures.
On Monday, Ward 13 councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart provided council with an update on the work the Coordinating Committee for the Office of the Councillors (CCOC) is doing to address issues with the current expense policies.
Those “system issues,” as described by the city auditor, were uncovered after council approved an investigation into Ward 2 councillor Joe Magliocca’s spending back in February. A second audit was launched to take a deeper look into expense claims from every member of council.
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.
“Whether it’s with personal expense claims, whether it’s with travel, whether it’s with taking a taxi when you have a car allotment and so on and so forth,” recently-elected CCOC chair Colley-Urquhart said to council. “We need to have an interim solution while we are doing the work so that we can be fully forthright and transparent to the citizens of Calgary.”
Meanwhile, the probe into Magliocca’s expenses found the Ward 2 representative claimed more than $5,600 in ineligble expenses as well as an additional $3,294.25 total in airfare upgrades not in line with city policies over the last two years.
Magliocca has since repaid the majority of those costs, which included personal meals, hosting expenses and room accommodations. The councillor’s expenses remain under investigation by the RCMP.
The CCOC acts as the body that oversees and approves expense claims submitted by city councillors.
Colley-Urquhart said there are governance and policy gaps in how councillor expenses are handled, including how expenditures were approved in the past.
One of the concerns brought up by Colley-Urquhart was the CCOC chair’s role in vetting and approving expense claims from fellow councillors.
“Councilor Colley-Urquhart has correctly pointed out that that’s not great governance,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Monday.
City council unanimously approved a proposal from Colley-Urquhart to have city staff process expense claims from councillors to ensure they are in line with financial policies within the City of Calgary.
If city staff determine the expense claim isn’t in line with those policies, the reimbursement request will go to the CCOC as a whole. If the claim is rejected by the CCOC, the councillor who filed the expense claim will have the opportunity to appeal to the Priorities and Finance Committee, which is chaired by Nenshi.
According to Nenshi, a working group currently developing new rules to address the expense policy shortfalls is expected to deliver its recommendations to council sometime in early 2021.