Edmonton·Exclusive

Caterina, Dziadyk didn't break city rules, integrity commissioner finds

Edmonton’s integrity commissioner has found Coun. Tony Caterina didn't violate any rules by continuing to employ his son as his executive assistant. 

2 formal complaints against councillors were filed earlier this year

Tony Caterina, first elected in 2007, is serving his fourth term as councillor for Ward 7. (CBC)

Edmonton's integrity commissioner has found two city councillors did not break the rules after two formal complaints were filed earlier this year. 

The city's integrity commissioner, Jamie Pytel, concluded that Coun. Tony Caterina didn't violate city policy by continuing to employ his son as his executive assistant. 

"I'm extremely happy that the findings were what they were," Caterina told CBC News Friday.

Pytel began investigating a formal complaint filed in late February, accusing the Ward 7 councillor of nepotism and corruption. 

Caterina, in his fourth-term as councillor for the northeast ward, has employed his son, Rocco Caterina for the past 11 years.

"Councillor Caterina did not act unethically and did not violate any Council policies when he employed his son Rocco Caterina as his EA," Pytel writes in her report released April 22.

Pytel notes that hiring family members was a longstanding, accepted practice within council.

That's about to change.

Caterina may be the last councillor to employ a family member, if current and future councillors abide by a new policy.

A week after Pytel completed her report, all councillors agreed to a new policy that will prevent elected officials from hiring relatives in the future.

"To eliminate actual or perceived conflicts of interest or favouritism: Councillors cannot hire relatives to work in their offices," the human resources management policy reads.

Caterina said he supports the change.

"We want to make sure perceptions are correct," he said. "I'm in complete agreement with it."   

Jon Dziadyk, Scott McKeen, Sarah Hamilton and Tony Caterina form part of the council elected in Oct. 2017. (CBC)

The new policy also includes a grandfather clause that allows current staff to keep their jobs. That means Rocco Caterina can keep his job, at least until the next election.  

"He has performed his duties extremely well and in my view there's never been a conflict," Coun. Caterina said.

He believes the transition to the new policy has to be fair and that means, retaining his son.

"Why would someone expect someone that's doing their job extremely well be fired for a change that's come in 12 years after initial employment."

Family members are often seen as untouchable- Integrity commissioner Jamie Pytel

In Caterina's 2018 ward expenses posted online, he spent $128,675 on personnel — one of the lowest of all councillors.

The amount includes Rocco's salary and another assistant, which Caterina hired for the first four months of the year.

Caterina noted Rocco's salary is in line with the accepted range of executive assistants employed within the city.

The city clerk's office has said the pay scale for an EA is $63,622 to $89,702.

Caterina isn't the first councillor to employ a relative.

Former Ward 9 Coun. Bryan Anderson employed his daughter and Bev Esslinger, current councillor for Ward 2, hired her son to work in her office for three years during her first term that started in 2013.

Risk of nepotism

In her report, Pytel explores the issue of nepotism and said hiring a family member is generally considered a conflict of interest.

"Family members are often seen as untouchable and favoured, even if, in reality, that is not the case," she wrote.

The integrity commissioner writes that in her view, hiring relatives "violates the spirit and intent of the Code and the requirements for impartiality."

Caterina noted that the code wasn't in place when he and other councillors hired their family members.  

But city funds are used to pay for these positions, to which Pytel added "the person hired should not be related to or in a personal relationship with the Councillor."

Pytel began the investigation after Thomas Deak, a resident of Castle Downs, filed the complaint against Caterina in February.

Deak said the new hiring policy for councillors is "full of holes," and is staunchly against the grandfather clause.

He believes Rocco Caterina shouldn't be exempted.

"It should become an open job in the human resources system, he can reapply, and then whoever is the best candidate at that time based on the new policy should get that job," Deaks says. 

Pytel's findings were sent to the councillor and the complainant only. CBC News obtained copies of the reports through the complainant.

Ward budget discretion

Deak also filed a complaint against Coun. Jon Dziadyk for the councillor's intention to use money from his ward budget to pay for an MBA at the University of Alberta.

Dziadyk had posted on his blog that he planned to pay for 35 per cent of the $67,000 MBA and use money from his ward budget to pay for the remaining 65 per cent. 

Coun. Jon Dziadyk held a press conference at city hall on Feb. 7 after a CBC article revealed he was planning on spending ward money to pay for part of his MBA. (John Shypitka/CBC)

"I thought that this was unethical, it's an egregious matter — taking money from the taxpayers without asking them," Deak said. 

Deak believes Dziadyk only apologized and vowed to pay back the money when he got his "hands caught red-handed in the cookie jar.

"He just would have pursued silently to continue his MBA studies and pay for it with taxpayers money," Deak alleges.

Dziadyk declined to comment on the integrity commissioner's report.

The integrity commissioner sent a memo to council outlining a few issues that came up during her investigations.

She stressed the importance for councillors to get professional development, training and education given their "complex and important work they carry out for the city."

"Councillors would benefit from clearer parameters and limits on what can be spent on training."

Dziadyk said other councillors would benefit from training but that he doesn't intend to use his ward budget for professional development.

"This has effectively silenced me for professional development," he said of the media coverage of his ward expenses.

@natashariebe

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