Anyone hoping to be elected for public office needs a tagline or motto that captures a value statement of that person. Ideally, the wording is such that it resonates with voters who share similar sentiments.
As prospective candidate for Ward Two I chose “Integrity, Accountability and Responsibility” although these could have been easily listed in reverse order.
To ensure we are all singing from the same song sheet, here is a brief explanation of terms:
Responsibility is linked to tasks someone is expected to execute. Accountability means taking ownership of the result of the work, whether it was executed well or poorly. Lastly, Integrity reflects how truthfully a person went about his or her work.
With these definitions in mind, it is worth our while to examine current mindset of Calgary City Hall and for this we will look at the interesting details associated with an expense account that came to light due to the curiosity of a newspaper reporter.
From what we know, a Councillor went on a business trip and invited guests to a meal, which is something that is not unusual. What is also not uncommon is that guests, who at home are quite satisfied with a glass of wine poured out of a box purchased at a grocery outlet, now do not shy away from ordering something they never would if they had to pay for it themselves. So, instead of a house chardonnay they now order a glass of pouilly-fuissé or the waiter is asked if XO Cognac is available while at home a non-descript brandy is consumed. In other words, the practice of whooping it up at other peoples’ expense is not rare among dignitaries.
At the end of the evening the Councillor pays the bill along with a generous tip, sticks the receipt in his pocket and goes to bed. When back at the office, an expense account is to be composed and forwarded with receipts along with some form of justification. Realization starts sinking in that red flag will be raised when the amount spent is disproportional to the number of guests that were present and that can only be remedied in two ways: report the truth and face the consequence of having to pay out of own pocket, or make the ratio a bit more palatable by adding to the number of guests. Our Councillor decided to opt for the last-mentioned option.
Apparently, Calgary City Hall has adapted the practice of having expense accounts reviewed and signed by a peer, and this was duly done. The peer Councillor may have given the written documents a glance, but evidently decided it not worth to question details, because next time he himself has something to claim, he also does not wish to be bothered. So far so good and the approved expense account makes its way to the Accounts Payable Department.
But now enter an eager newspaper journalist who determined to delve into details as to how, exactly, taxpayer money is put to use so everyone can judge for themselves whether or not fair value is obtained. When the results are published, the expenses of our Councillor rise head and shoulders above his peers in terms of spending and thereby begs the attention of those who wish to know a little more about the particulars. Now the names of the guests stated on the bill are published, but then it is revealed that several them were not present to enjoy the gastronomic experience.
This puts our Councillor in an awkward position because the fact of who attended the meal and who did not is easily verified as he found out in short order. A few quick phone calls was all that was needed to settle the matter. With the opportunity lost of confessing the truth at the time of filing his expense account, our Councillor’s options are limited to trying to explain the unexplainable. This may work for some folks, but by and large Calgary citizens are astute enough to smell a rat and demanded clarification.
Now the lid of the sceptic tank was raised, and Calgary citizens were treated to a spectacle of playing the blame game. Our Councillor cited lapse of memory, his peer claimed justification because of his workload and threw a health card afterwards on the table, and the City Integrity Commissioner had compromised himself by having had a lavish lunch with the accused.
The Mayor, who has plenty of options under the Code of Ethics to rule in a renegade spender, decided to use none of them and resorted to engage a consultant so that nothing would stick to his person. Taxpayers now had to pony up seven times the amount that was originally in question for that privilege, so they were worked over twice.
So here it is: a pathetic demonstration of Calgary City Council in absconding responsibility and derelict in accountability, while throwing their personal integrity out of the window. This is the very same Council who feel entitled to their inflated salaries, perks, pensions and what have you, while dreaming up schemes for extracting fees and increasing taxation to satisfy their ever increasing appetite for spending.
It is now up to the Calgary residents to do something about it. May we suggest turfing the entire City Council and start afresh. Carefully select prospective candidates and insist that they answer hard questions before putting an X in the box. For instance, will you take a pay cut and if so, how much? Will you pay for your own pension plan? Will you resign immediately if you are being found guilty of trespassing the code of ethics? Remember how these folks got their seats in the first place: it was us, the voters!