Farkas accuses City of Calgary officials of 'skimming money' from developers
Opponents say comment shows how if elected mayor, Jeromy Farkas will have troubles at city hall
Jeromy Farkas says the fight to become Calgary's next mayor has become what he calls a "two-horse race."
He joined two of his council colleagues who are also running for mayor at a Tuesday forum presented by the Calgary Construction Association.
Recent polls have suggested that Farkas and Jyoti Gondek were front-runners among decided voters, while fellow councillor Jeff Davison has been consistently polling third.
During the discussion, Farkas took aim at secrecy at city hall.
He said as mayor he will take steps to cut down on closed-door meetings by city council.
He also pointed to an accounting problem last year as an example of why Calgary businesses are mistrustful of city hall.
The city inadvertently took millions of dollars in interest it earned from a fund made up of developer levies.
Instead of using that $56 million to fund new infrastructure in new communities, the money was put into general revenues.
Following a review, that money was returned to the original fund.
"City hall establishment, the administration, including the planning department that Coun. Gondek as 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," said Farkas.
Farkas should apologize, says Davison
Gondek took exception to that characterization. She said if Farkas wins next week's election, there could be some challenging times ahead.
"If that's the way you're going to go into a relationship as the mayor of the city with your administration, I struggle to see how we'll ever accomplish anything," said Gondek.
Jeff Davison went further, suggesting that Farkas owes city bureaucrats an apology.
"There's accounting errors and then there's nefarious activity which was not occurring," said Davison.
"The argument that they were skimming off the top has criminal implications and I believe none of that was happening and he owes them an apology."
Other policy disagreements
It wasn't the only item that Gondek and Davison took exception to during the session.
Farkas said he voted against council's downtown strategy because it's focused on "the wrong things."
It calls for improvements in the public realm and subsidizing the cost of converting empty office buildings to residential uses as a way of encouraging more people to live, work and play in the core.
Farkas wants to open a downtown police station to attract young people as he says it will make them feel safe. He also wants more done to ensure downtown doesn't flood in the future as it did in 2013.
Gondek said she supports the downtown strategy as a way of diversifying and revitalizing Calgary's inner city.
She said the $45-million fund to help with the cost of office conversions is already fully subscribed.
As well, she pointed to a recent opening of an office on Stephen Avenue downtown where police and other agencies can work to better deal with social disorder as well as help vulnerable populations in the core.
"We just opened a community safety hub in partnership with the Calgary Police Service. That was a great move. Again, it signals that the Calgary Police Service is moving towards modernization and moving towards partnerships," said Gondek.
For his part, Davison said he has supported doing more to bolster downtown as Calgary's economic heart and investing in major projects which will draw more people and businesses to Calgary.
"I am the only councillor here that has championed the event centre. The other two voted against it. I stood up for the BMO expansion, the Arts Commons expansion, the field house. I am moving forward with projects that will impact our city for decades to come," said Davison.
Calgarians will vote in the municipal election on Oct. 18.
On Tuesday, the city said more than 141,000 people have already cast a ballot in the advance vote.
The new city council will be sworn into office on Oct. 25.
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