Calgary Council Bills Ignite Outrage
Some of you may remember that for years we were professying and speaking about corruption at City Hall. Many thought that we were crazy. Some said, "no it’s not that bad", but God revealed to us and told us to shout from the roof tops about what was going on inside. What you will read in this article is just the tip of the iceburg. God told us that He is going to reveal and bring into the light a lot more severe abuses and demonstrations of corruption. For those that thought that we were out to lunch, we have this to say to you, "by the fruits you shall know them". Except for a few of them, that still have a heart for the poor and for the rich, which in fact all politicians should have, we say the majority of them need to go.
Calgary council bills ignite outrage
Aldermen on defensive over 2008 spending
By Joel Kom And Kim Guttormson, Calgary Herald
Ald. Ric McIver, whose cleaning tab totalled $450, said he charged for the expense because the policy allows it. "In a city of a million people, I’m not sure people want their representatives looking shabby," he said. Photograph by: Archive, Calgary Herald
CALGARY – Calgary taxpayers paid $79 to give one alderman a golf lesson, $207 to alter another’s Stampede shirt, $4,014 to dry clean 11 aldermen’s clothing and another $13,600 to develop personal websites for almost half of city council last year, newly released financial documents show.
Those were just some of the individualized expenses the Herald found in the 14 aldermen’s office budgets that covered everything from sponsorships of lobby groups to paying the green fees for golf tournaments.
The documents, obtained through freedom of information requests, offer the first insight into how council members spent some $1.7 million last year to cover their expenses.
Those details, based on line-by-line breakdowns of how every dollar was spent, revealed some expenses paid for by taxpayers that critics labelled "outrageous," and left a few aldermen pledging to repay some of the cash while others defended their spending.
Ald. Andre Chabot fell into both camps.
He charged $79 last year for a lesson at Fox Hollow Golf Course, saying he didn’t want to look out of place when he was playing a round and chatting about city issues.
"It’s not something I expect to do on a regular basis, but I’m not a golfer, right? When I do get a chance to go out and golf with folks, I don’t want to look too foolish," he said.
Chabot acknowledged taxpayers shouldn’t have paid for the lesson and promised to pay back the money.
"That was probably something that was a little over the top," he added. "I should have paid for that personally."
Still, the fact Chabot initially charged for the lesson is shocking, said Scott Hennig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a government spending watchdog group.
"That is absolutely outrageous," he said. "I can’t imagine this politician’s constituents are concerned their politician has too high of a handicap."
The golf lesson was just one item on a list of expenses that raised red flags for critics.
Aldermen, who earn $96,940 annually, each had a $145,385 budget last year to spend on travel, courses, business expenses and assistants’ salaries.
Every expense was put through the aldermanic office, which is overseen by a civil servant, and then approved by Ald. Ray Jones, who chairs the aldermanic office co-ordinating committee.
Last year, those expenses included at least $4,014 in dry cleaning bills that 11 aldermen charged to the city, something that is permitted under aldermanic policy for "business" suits meant for official events.
Most of the aldermen who charged for cleaning described it more as routine maintenance, saying the expense was justified because their official duties call for them to look the part.
"In my perspective, it’s allowed because we do have a public appearance, a public presence, and we have to maintain it," said Ald. Gord Lowe, who billed $665 for dry cleaning. "You get into this job and you maintain a wider wardrobe than you would normally in business."
Ald. Ric McIver, whose cleaning tab totalled $450, said he charged for the expense because the policy allows it.
"In a city of a million people, I’m not sure people want their representatives looking shabby," he said.
Some aldermen, such as John Mar and Bob Hawkesworth, said they only charge for dry cleaning if their clothes are soiled at an event where they’re representing the city.
But Ald. Dale Hodges argued laundering shouldn’t be covered and said he has never claimed for it.
"I believe that’s my personal expense that I would be paying for anyway, whether I was here or not," he said.
James Lightbody, who teaches civic politics at the University of Alberta, agreed.
"If they did not know(having clean clothes) was a requirement of the job before they stood for election, they should have stayed home," he said. "I assume they need clean underwear, too. Are we paying for the laundry bill?"
Dry cleaning wasn’t the only contentious charge aldermen rang up.
Ald. Brian Pincott charged $87 to obtain a passport, saying it was justified because he specifically needed the document to travel to the U. S. for an affordable housing conference.
"I have, on a point of principle, not travelled to the United States and I never before had a passport in my life," he said. "If it weren’t for this job, I would never travel to the United States."
But Lightbody dismissed that explanation.
"That’s nonsense. Anyone in any profession should have a passport."
The political scientist also raised concerns over aldermen using $13,600 to pay for personal websites with public dollars. Some aldermen, such as Mar and Joe Ceci, now use the same website to communicate ward issues that they also used during election campaigns.
Although each aldermen gets an individual — albeit limited–website provided by the city, several used their budgets to set up their own personal sites.
Both Lightbody and Hennig said that practice may blur the line between politics and policy, and politicians should keep separate websites for their ward communications and campaigns.
Ald. Linda Fox-Mellway, meanwhile, said she’ll join Chabot in repaying some expenses.
She charged $207 for alterations to an official Stampede shirt, but said in an interview she will now reimburse the city for the full amount and charge it to the Stampede.
"It just got sent and paid for through the wrong account," she said.
Additional records provided to the Herald show Fox-Mellway had already repaid one thing she said shouldn’t have gone through her city budget: $347.62 for tickets to heavy metal icons Metallica for her son.
"Quite frankly, I just used the wrong credit card. They’re beside each other, and I was on the phone and I quickly did it."
Ceci did a similar thing by paying back $156.03 for Theatre Calgary tickets which he later deemed a personal expense.
Aldermen have some latitude on how they use their office budgets. They can sponsor community events or groups, buy gifts for staff or officials, go for business meals and host volunteers at one Flames game every year.
Hennig said it’s important for aldermen to have a budget they can use for their community work, and that civic politicians are generally scrupulous about how they spend that money.
Every expense is vetted by Jones. While he wouldn’t name individuals, Jones said he’s had to refuse some expenses in the past, including a shoe polisher and a private coffee urn.
Jones said the vast majority of expenses fall within the city’s guidelines and it’s up to aldermen to decide how best to use their budgets.
"Most people are within the policy. I don’t think anybody really abuses it," he said.
Some aldermen, such as Stevenson, Jones, Joe Connelly, Chabot and McIver used public dollars to attend golf tournaments. The tournaments are held for charities, community groups or, in Chabot’s case, council’s own tournament at the McCall Lake Golf Course, where he spent $200 on golf and a meal for himself, as well a meal for his wife.
"It’s an allowable expense and I don’t feel like I have to defend it," Connelly said of golf tournaments.
"If it’s allowable, it’s allowable and you need to attack the policy and not the individuals who are doing it."
Others spent money on projects, events or groups that interested them.
Pincott spent $76.19 on One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo, a popular local theatre production. Stevenson paid $250 for tickets to an award dinner for the National Citizens Coalition.
Farrell charged $89.39 for five copies of "Fluoride Deception" in connection with her battle to stop the city’s practice of adding fluoride to the water supply.
Connelly spent $383.25 for tickets to see Jordan’s Queen Noor, who spoke in April 2008 about global issues and the conflicts between East and West.
"Queen Noor is quite high profile in terms of what she had as a vision for communities," he said when asked about the expense.
McIver spent his budget on fundraisers for the Alberta Motion Picture Industries Association, B’nai Brith, Loops for Troops and the Calgary Enterprise Forum, described on its website as being for "high-growth business managers to network with like-minded individuals."
"If I didn’t think they were the right thing to do, I wouldn’t have done them," he said of his expenses. "When I get the message from Calgarians that they don’t agree, then I’ll be happy to change my mind."
Did you know you paid for …
Golf lessons, tailoring, dry cleaning, tickets to the theatre, aldermen’s personal websites, customized pens?