Edmonton

Edmonton city councillors may soon be prevented from hiring family members

Edmonton city councillors will no longer be free to hire their own relatives if a new policy gets final approval.

'Public feedback would suggest that's the right thing to do'

New rules may prevent Edmonton city councillors from hiring family members in the future. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

Edmonton city councillors will no longer be free to hire their own relatives if a new policy gets final approval.

That policy, which the council services committee recommended without debate Monday, aims to "eliminate actual or perceived conflicts of interest or favouritism."

Under the policy, relatives would include children, parents, sisters, brothers, common-law spouses, step-parents, step-children, legal guardians or anyone who lives with a councillor on a permanent basis.

Part of a new human resources management policy, the recommendation will now be sent to city council for final approval at its next meeting in May.

Coun. Andrew Knack said the policy would prevent potential conflicts.

'right thing to do'

"We've been given feedback by our own internal sources, internal departments, and I think just generally public feedback would suggest that's the right thing to do," Knack said.

Coun.Tony Caterina has for years employed his son, Rocco Caterina, as his executive assistant.

Caterina's total personnel costs for 2018 were $128,675, according to expense reports posted online.

The councillor told CBC News in March he also had a second assistant for the first four months of 2018.

CBC News asked Caterina in March for a breakdown of what he pays his office staff. He hasn't provided that information.

Knack said the policy recommended on Monday would help clarify what's expected of councillors.

"The rules were what they were, whether or not they were the right rules in the past," he said Monday. "I think the new policy is much better."

Former councillors have employed family members in the past.

Coun. Bev Esslinger hired her son part-time for two years after she was first elected in 2013.

She said it's important that assistants have the proper skills to do the job.

"It's really about getting the right people in to help you," she said.

Esslinger said other councillors approached her son to work for them as well.

"Whoever you hire, you have to ensure that you can trust them, because it's your reputation. Is that easier when it's someone you know? Often."

She acknowledged that the new policy would align with standard practices at the city.

"It's a perception that people have that it's nepotism and that they only got it because they're related to you," she said. "For me, it's if they have the skills."

The policy allows anyone already working for a municipal politician to keep that job at least until the next election.

"Employed relatives as of date of this policy's approval by council will be excepted from this provision and 'grandfathered' into their positions," the policy reads.

Knack said he doesn't have a problem with that clause.

"I also think it's fair to allow anyone who's currently operating under that to be grandfathered in," he said.

City council has already adopted a new code of conduct as required by provincial legislation. It requires councillors to submit expenses and report gifts.

@natashariebe

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