City of Calgary ethics policies have gaps, says new report

A report done for the city auditor has found numerous problems with the city's ethics policies. Employees aren't required to sign off on the code of conduct and even city councillors don't know if the policy applies to them.

Problems pose risk to city reputation and to employees, but city manager promises action

An independent report has found numerous gaps in the city's ethics policies.

Jeff Fielding, the City of Calgary's manager, says he wants Calgarians to know he's taking the issue seriously.

The city auditor asked KPMG to take an independent look at the city's code of conduct and whistle-blower program. The 34-page report cited numerous problems.

The key observations listed in the report:

  • City employees are not required to acknowledge they understand the code of conduct.
  • City council members aren't given training on the code of conduct.
  • There's a lack of clarity on whether the code of conduct applies to councillors and their office staff.
  • Administration doesn't have a process to collect and report on code of conduct violations or investigations.
  • There is confusion about who in administration is responsible for promoting understanding of the code of conduct.
  • There is weakness in disclosure requirements for employees on potential conflicts of interest.

City administrators have accepted all of the recommendations in the report.

City manager Jeff Fielding said the problems are a concern.

"Making an effort to ensure that everyone understands the type of behaviour we expect from our employees is critical and you can see there are gaps in that," said Fielding.

But making change will take some time. In the report, city administration estimates it could take until July 2017 to secure employee sign-off that they understand their responsibilities under the code of conduct. 

15,000 city employees

Some members of the city's audit committee expressed concern Thursday about the amount of time to implement all of the recommendations.

City auditor Kathy Palmer said it's understandable change won't happen immediately.

"You have to keep in mind we're not a small organization. We have 15,000 employees. And for my view, I don't want just a change in a policy or an update in a paragraph," said Palmer.

As for confusion in councillor's offices about what rules apply, Coun. Richard Pootmans said that has been identified as a problem previously. Councillors are technically not city employees and neither are their office staff.

"Currently, we're looking to see how we can bring them in under the city code but that's a work in progress," said Pootmans.

Councillor behaviour has been flagged as a problem recently as well. City council has approved the hiring of an integrity commissioner to handle complaints or questions about its members, given their rather unique status at city hall.

Fielding wants Calgarians to know he's taking the issue seriously.

"The behaviour of my staff and the behaviour of us as an organization is absolutely critical in terms of confidence and trust," said Fielding.

He's planning to get information about the code of conduct to all employees in September and October but securing employee sign-off may require consultation with city unions. 

Fielding also intends to appear before audit committee in November to provide an update on implementing the recommendations in the report.

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