• By: OLM Staff

Have you no shame — The shocking expenses of our unelected city managers

By Claire Tremblay & Dan Donovan

Shocking. That's how Auditor General Sheila Fraser described the waste of $100 million of taxpayers' money in her February 10 report to Parliament on the Liberal government's sponsorship fiasco in Quebec. But for jaded Canadian taxpayers, the waste of their hard-earned money is nothing new. Ever since former Privacy Commissioner George Radwanski blew a fortune on lunches and perks, reports of money-grubbing federal public servants have barely left the front page.

But with the City of Ottawa in the midst of its own shock-and-awe campaign to wipe out a $101 5-million operating budget shortfall, the question remains — are ethical issues confined to the federal arena alone? How ethical are our own City of Ottawa officials when it comes to the public tab?

The top six general managers of the City of Ottawa have carte blanche to clock up significant work-related expenditures, including travel, wining and dining, electronic gadgets, office supplies and equipment, promotional items and staff appreciation gifts.

The result of their work is a city drowning in $120 million dollars in debt. Even though they knew the seriousness of the financial strife of the city before the election, Mayor Chiarelli and his 6 "City Managers" did not reveal the true extent of the city's financial picture to citizens until after last Novembers election. Immediately following the election, Mayor Chiarelli agreed to massive payouts of over 1 million dollars to two former city managers. In February the "City Managers" recommended cuts to most core services including all community groups, all sport and recreation faculties and programs, food banks, support services for the poor and aged and several major city health prevention programs. To add insult to injury, at the very same time they recommended massive cuts, Mayor Bob Chiarelli and his "City Managers" approved pay bonuses for 550 city employees and the 6 City Managers gave themselves a 10% pay bonus. Chiarelli presented the payouts and bonuses as a "fait accompli" and washed his hands of the matter.

Documents obtained by Ottawa Life Magazine under the Freedom of Information Act show that at least some municipal officials are making full use of the work-related expense account. Some of these expenses could easily cover the costs of many small community groups as they struggle to make ends meet. The very city officials who have recommended cutting $22,860.85 to the city-wide Food Bank and School Breakfast Program spent $25,119.90 attending a two-day retreat at luxurious Strathmere House, wining and dining among themselves and other staff members in 2001 and 2002. Part of the money spent on the Strathmere jaunt would keep the Orleans Young Players youth theatre group open for another year. The groups $11,000 annual grant from the city is under threat because of the draft budget's 80% decrease in arts funding.

Then there are the individual expenses, like the $745.03 spent by one senior city official at Davios Italian steakhouse in Philadelphia. Radwanski took a lot of heat for spending $444 on a dinner for two at Le Panache Restaurant in Gatineau, while these city officials are given a pass.

The City of Ottawa's definition of a work-related expenditure is increasingly fuzzy. Is private dry-cleaning a work-related expense? Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli, who wracked up $560 worth of dry-cleaning expenses on the corporate credit card in 2002, seems to think so.

General managers at the City of Ottawa earn salaries and benefits the average worker can only dream of (A Canadian Federation of Independent Business survey released in 2003 showed that City of Ottawa employees earn 14% more in benefits and salaries than their private sector counterparts in Ottawa for doing the same work). The supercity general managers earn up to $225,000 each (the average is $150,000), receive six weeks of vacation a year and, depending on the contract, receive other benefits such as the reimbursement of gym memberships.

Despite a $225,000 salary, former city manager Bruce Thom received financial assistance to purchase a home in Ottawa and was reimbursed for a $2,800 membership at an exclusive Ottawa gym. And while most executive officers in the private sector would be fired for running a corporation $120 million into the red, the former city manager who left the City of Ottawa in 2003 after only three years of service, received a bailout package worth $800,000. This is despite his contract stipulating that his $225,000-a-year salary and benefits were offered "in contemplation that he will stay with the City of Ottawa at least five years."

Thom's severance pay for three years of service is more than enough to cover the $727,000 that Ottawa City Council is seeking to slash from the entire municipal health budget under the draft budget. Programs under threat of elimination include influenza vaccinations in health care workplaces; the workplace health program; the breast, prostate and colorectal cancer prevention program; and the well baby drop-in centre program.

Below is a list of some expenses made by the top six officials at the City of Ottawa. All of the expenses listed are apparently perfectly legitimate work-related expenses. Yet are these levels of expenditures ethical and appropriate for public officials? We'll let you decide. Keep in mind that these expenses are for 2001-02. We'll itemize more recent expenses by municipal officials very soon.

City of Ottawa Officials by the Numbers (Expenditures for 2001-02):

• Total amount spent by top 6 City of Ottawa mangers on work-related expenditures in 2001-2002 -1.1 million in payouts plus $165,291.21 in travel, wining, dining, gadgets and staff gifts.

• Total amount of money spent by city officials dining out with other city officials and staff in 2002 – $14,332.27.

• Amount spent for 2 day retreat at Strath mere House Country Resort – $25,119.90

KENNETH HUGHES, the City's Manager of Revenue charged taxpayers $321.00 for a laptop case for his computer from Wilson's Leather Experts in Toronto. Numerous stores in Ottawa and Toronto offer laptop brief cases for between $25-$80.00—although not leather. Hughes also charged the city $326.94 fora printer from Romeo Lafreniere et Fils, a department Store in Gracefield, Quebec. Hughes told Ottawa Life that "I was on vacation in Quebec, I had work to do and I needed a printer." Hughes is the "City Manager" charged with collecting city debt. It was his department that went after Parkdale Food Bank which was forced to move because it had no money to pay the city for realty taxes. He earns over 6 figures, plus benefits and has 6 weeks annual vacation.

• ROSEMARIE LECLAIR, General Manager Transportation. Utilities and Public Works Services is fond of dining out and travel. In 2001 LeClair and 5 city officials attended the ATWA (American Public Works Association) Conference. While there, they dined at Davios, one of Philadelphia's most exclusive restaurants and charged it to the taxpayers. Their dinner bill was $745.03 or $124.17 per person. LeClair's office would not disclose who the staff were and why &city employees needed to be in Philadelphia for the conference. The per diem for federal civil servants is $30.65 for dinner — 4 times less than what these city officials charged Ottawa taxpayers. In a similar episode Leclair charged taxpayers $731.11 from Bell Pastry for coffee and sandwiches for 40 city officials attending a management forum at Ropec — the management wastewater facility. That's an average of $18.27 per person. It should be noted that LeClair is part of City Management Team that recommended cuts of $27,000 to the Forbes Community Resource Centre Emergency Food Program. (Wouldn't it be great if they got some pastries too!) LeClair earns over $150,000 annually plus bonuses and benefits and 6 weeks vacation.

• LLOYD RUSSELL, the City's Director of Financial Services claimed $11,410.27 in expenses in 2001 for dining out, lunches, accommodations and professional subscriptions. Included in this amount was a receipt from Canadian Tire for $477.15 for "golf prizes." He earns 6 figures plus bonuses.

DAVID BRAY, the former General Manager of Human Resources Services who received a $325,000 payout from the City in January 2004 was also given a car allowance of $500 per month and the city paid to ship his two cars from Edmonton to Ottawa as part of his initial relocation package. The city also paid for his $2669.97 membership at the Amberwood Golf Club and his R.A. fees of $1861.02. He also received 6 weeks annual leave and annual 10% pay bonuses while employed with the city.

• In 2001 STEVE KANELLAKOS, the Acting City Manger spent $32,249.84 in travel, restaurant and conference items including $8,156.37 dining out with other city officials, $799.89 in gifts for his staff and $1431.59 for the Ramada Hotel in Ottawa – although his expenses report did not explain the spending at the Ramada. His total expenses charged to the City for 2001-2002 are $44,648.78, including $9,610.07 in "working lunches" with other council staff. In addition he charged $3,450.40 on "staff appreciation" dinners and lunches. He also spent $1,476.72 for gifts for his staff. He's paid $225,000 annually with 6 weeks of leave.

• In 2001-2002, KENT KIRKPATRICK, the City Manger for Corporate Services spent $42,188.31 including over $18,656.77 for conferences and for "professional subscriptions". He also charged the city $6859.36 for a two day "strategic session" at Sam Jakes Inn. Ottawa Life has learned that the city could have easily accommodated this session at City Hall. Kirkpatrick earns over $150,000 per year with pay and bonuses and 6 weeks paid vacation. He was part of the management team that has proposed cutting the city's maintenance and operation of 220 outdoor rinks. The good news is that there probably is a rink at the Sam Jakes Inn for him to skate on at his next "strategic session retreat."

(Above statistics apply to the combined expenditures of 6 City of Ottawa officials-former City Manger Bruce Thom; General Manger Corporate Services Kent Kirkpatrick; General Manger Development Services Ned Lathrop; Acting City Manger Steve Kanellakos; General Manger human resources David Bray; and General Manager, Transportation Utilities and Public Works Rosemarie LeClair.)

The City of Ottawa Community by the Numbers (Cost of Operating Programs in 2003):

• Cost to run Overbrook-Forbes Community Resource Centre Emergency Food Program in 2003 – $27,000; estimated number of people who benefit from the program each year —30,000

• Proposed cut to the city-wide Food Bank and School Breakfast Program under draft budget – $22,860

• Cost to run Overbrook-Forbes Community Resource Centre Youth Program in 2003 -$39,000; number of youth who benefited from program in 2002 and 2003 — 382

• Cost to run city-wide services for isolated seniors in 2003 – $64,000; proposed cut under draft budget— 50%

• Cost to run influenza vaccine clinic in health care workplaces – $25,000; proposed to be eliminated under draft budget

• Cost to run outdoor rinks for youth in the city – $495,000; proposed to be eliminated under draft budget

• Cost to run Crisis Intervention Program to assist people in crisis (such as people at risk of suicide and in domestic abuse situations) at each of the city's 14 Community Health and Resource Centres – $50,000; number of people assisted under the program in 2003 — 2,000

• Amount of City of Ottawa grant to run Home Management Counselor Program to assist low-income earners manage their money — $238,000; number of people assisted under the program each year — 1,000

• Cost to assist an individual artist in the City of Ottawa – $5,500 (grant received by visual artist Eric Walker in 2003)

• Amount of City of Ottawa grant to help run the Ottawa School of Art in 2003 – $135,000

(All programs stated above are suggested to be either eliminated or receive a reduction in funding under the City of Ottawa Draft Budget 2004.)