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Calgary election: Nenshi calls on Farkas to apologize for ‘skimming’ comments

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WATCH: Calgary's outgoing mayor Naheed Nenshi has called on a candidate running to be his successor to apologize for comments made during a mayoral candidates forum this week. – Oct 15, 2021

With Calgary’s municipal election just days away, the city’s outgoing mayor has expressed frustration over recent comments by one candidate in the running to be his successor.

During an appearance on Global News Morning on Friday, Naheed Nenshi said comments made this week by Ward 11 councillor Jeromy Farkas during a debate hosted by the Calgary Construction Association were false and misleading.

Farkas was in the process of explaining why he felt businesses don’t trust city hall when he pointed to an accounting error made by city administration, and accused city staff of “skimming money” from local developers.

“City hall establishment, the administration, including the planning department that Councillor Gondek is chair of the committee for, basically got away with skimming money off the top. Millions and millions of dollars that industry had paid into these fees, and reallocating that interest income into other priorities without actually showing industry the receipts,” Farkas said during the debate.

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Farkas’ comment was in reference to an accounting issue identified by city administration following a request by local developers last year.

According to the city, interest income from off-site levies was inadvertently transferred into general revenues.

The city collects funds from local developers through off-site levies to be used to build infrastructure in new communities and are kept in several accounts until they’re used to fund those projects.

Following a review, city administration called the issue an accounting inconsistency. $56.3 million was transferred from reserves back into the original fund during budget deliberations last year.

“We’ll continue working with stakeholders to make our processes transparent and accountable,” City of Calgary planning and development general manager Stuart Dalgleish said in a statement at the time. “There’s now increased oversight and improved procedural mechanisms to ensure this issue doesn’t happen again, and we’re engaging our external auditor to review the decision.”

“Councillor Farkas was the vice-chair of the audit committee, which was the only leadership role he took in four years, so he knew better, he knows it’s not true,” Nenshi said. “The city found ways to put interest into those accounts in order to build more infrastructure.

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On Friday, Farkas called his comments “factual” and did not apologize for the remarks.

“There wasn’t any criminality implied, but the city made a mistake, and once the mistake was identified, then (administration) came to the table with ideas about how to fix it,” Farkas said. “We need to make sure that going forward those mistakes don’t happen.”

Farkas’ colleagues on council who are also running for mayor, Jyoti Gondek and Jeff Davison, both called on him to apologize during the debate.

Davison, who represents Ward 6, said Friday that it was “baffling” that there hasn’t been an apology.

“You do not get to accuse city administration of underhanded, criminal activities,” Davison told Global News. “That was 100 per cent not the case, and the person that needs to look in the mirror here is him.”

Gondek, elected in Ward 3 in 2017, said she has challenged city policy and administration, but said it shouldn’t be done with false claims.

“You cannot put out false claims and blame administration for things that are simply not true.

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“You can’t say they are skimming money,” Gondek said. “It’s incredibly disappointing for administration to be characterized in that manner. I’m not impressed that my colleague would say something like that.”

Read more: Calgary election: final stretch in marathon race to be city’s next mayor

Although Farkas said he didn’t imply criminal intent, Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said the wording that was chosen can be understood in that way.

“If you hear ‘skimming off the top,’ you’re not hearing ‘moving it from one pile of funds to another pile of funds.’ You’re thinking ‘they’re taking it and putting it in their pocket,'” Bratt said.

“So what was a technical accounting issue that was discovered and solved became sort of mistruth, a misrepresentation.”

Historically, outgoing mayors in Calgary have remained relatively silent regarding the municipal election, Bratt said.

Nenshi has stayed away from endorsing any council or mayoral candidates during the campaign, but Bratt said it is not a secret that he and Farkas do not align on several issues.

“(Nenshi) has often been unfiltered, and he will tell you what he thinks,” Bratt told Global News. “He hasn’t endorsed a candidate, but it is clear he does not want Jeromy Farkas to win.”

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However, Bratt said he believes Nenshi’s comments were a “one-off.”

Ultimately, Calgarians will make their decision when they head to the polls on Monday.

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