I took my Power in my Hand – /
And went against the World –
Emily Dickinson (Poem 660)
Monday, January 2, 2017
Todd Burge, chief financial officer for the city, said the city is trying hard to minimize costs, including using Skype for conferences where appropriate. They’re also moving to electronic expense claims to make the process easier and embed the rules into the forms to make them obvious. “We’re trying really hard to manage and control those costs. We try to use local training wherever we can,” said Burge. “For travel, we try to use it appropriately. … Learning is really fundamental to what we do.”------ No gift cards, bottled water for city employees as Edmonton reins in costs--------and yet no mention is made of more important matters such as why is there no oversight of the city manager and city auditor expenses? Why do we have self approval by two city employees while everyone else has to follow the directive that controls approval of expenses? Its not acceptable and Edmonton city council should put in oversight approval immediately; haven't they learned from the last city manager's excessive self approval of business travel?
While Edmonton’s auditor commended city staff for tightening the rules around employee spending and ratcheting down overall amounts, there is still work to be done.
An audit passed by the audit committee Thursday found Edmonton employees spent $8.8 million on travel and expenses in 2015. That’s down from $13.5 million in 2008, and auditor David Wiun said the number of inappropriate expenses is down significantly.
“We didn’t find anything that we would classify as inappropriate,” said Wiun, after his staff analyzed a sample of 86 claims. “That’s significantly different than we found in 2009.”
That audit of 2008 expenses found issues with a third of the expense claims, including on a $127,000 training bill with no receipt and several staff going over clear limits on per diem and meal expenses.
City officials clarified and better enforced their expense policies since then.
Thursday’s audit still found “uneconomical” decisions, such as a hosted lunch that went over the $15 per person budget, a seat selection fee over the $15 limit and a taxi tip above the 15-per-cent guideline. But his staff stopped their search after 86 randomly selected entries because it was clear guidelines were better followed.
This year, expenses are on track to be down 25 per cent again, said Wiun, after city manager Linda Cochrane sent out a detailed memo in February warning all branch managers and directors to constrain “non-essential spending.”
Gift cards for employee recognition and bottled water for employees in city work spaces have been banned, while working lunches are to be minimized. All travel out of province has to be approved by a general manager, and employees who attend conferences are expected to present what they learned to colleagues at home to reduce the number of employees sent.
Barbecues and other large-scale employee recognition events for each department have been replaced with one corporate-wide “Great City Event,” according to the memo Postmedia obtained separately through a Freedom of Information request.
“The current economic uncertainty requires all businesses to constrain non-essential spending; the City of Edmonton is not immune to this reality and all leaders need to respond appropriately,” Cochrane wrote.
Wiun said the city can still improve by making sure spending limits on per diem and other expenses are reasonable, ensuring travel co-ordinators are well trained and used for all travel arrangements, and that tracking expenses is better co-ordinated.
It’s a high risk area, he said. “It’s a reputational risk when you’re dealing with taxpayer money.”
Todd Burge, chief financial officer for the city, said the city is trying hard to minimize costs, including using Skype for conferences where appropriate. They’re also moving to electronic expense claims to make the process easier and embed the rules into the forms to make them obvious.
“We’re trying really hard to manage and control those costs. We try to use local training wherever we can,” said Burge. “For travel, we try to use it appropriately. … Learning is really fundamental to what we do.”
On Thursday, Wiun also presented his 2017 work plan. That includes audits on Edmonton’s pesticide use, the waste management process and disposal program, the city’s corporate culture and the effectiveness of Edmonton’s program for selecting sites and installing pedestrian crossings.
I reviewed this audit today and I had several questions for Mr. Wiun that he will address.
1) Why did the city auditor not review past mishaps as in the case of the former city manager's excessive self approved travel expenses and expand the directive to include approval of the city manager and auditor business travel expenses by city council?
Edmonton's former city manager spent 200+ days travelling on taxpayers' time and money Mayor and new city manager vow to change policy and make expenses public *********** Don Iveson and the new city manager say it is sufficient to make the expenses of the city manager public. I don't agree that this change in policy will ensure that we don't have excessive overruns in travel expenses for the city manager and I believe there needs to be approval of all city manager expenses by Edmonton city council.
I mean it would be simple to do and really I don't understand why Mr. Iveson thinks this would be a cumbersome business when the city of Calgary is already doing this oversight of their city manager.
.If the city auditor also self approves his expenses, then he should also get oversight of the same sort.
2) In the directive that is currently in place that has not yet been updated to reflect the new city manager's instructions to get approval for out of province and out of Canada travel expenses by the department Deputy City Manager, there is no information on how the business travel is approved by the folks who approve of the travel. What is the procedure used by managers to approve of business travel?
It just says that for in province travel there must be approval by someone higher than you, and for all other travel there must be approval by the department Deputy City Manager. Now I am curious how these folks make the decision to approve the travel.
Why didn't the auditor review the decision making process for travel? How are we to know if this travel is really required or not? In the current economic climate only essential travel should be allowed and approval should be reviewed according to a set format. The auditor simply looks at the paper work and process to apply for approval and not the decision making process for approval:
Recommendation 1 – Review, Update, and Enforce Directive and Procedures The OCA recommends that the Branch Manager, Financial Services reviews, updates, and enforces Employee Business Expenses – Local and Out of Town Administrative Directive and Procedures 1415. This should include: Updating authorization requirements; Clarifying ‘acting’ role authority; Ensuring maximum allowable expense amounts are reasonable and reflect the current economy; and Ensuring requirements for accurate coding and documentation of expenses are met.
Management Response Accepted Action Plan: Management is currently working to update Employee Business Expenses – Local and Out of Town Administrative Directive and Procedures 1415 as part of a broader corporate review of Administrative Directives. The review, currently underway, will include an update of the authorization requirements, clarification of the authority of individuals in an ‘acting’ role, a review of allowable expenses in the context of the current economy including a review of allowable amounts for per diem meals, seat selection, and tipping, and an examination of the coding and documentation requirements. Management in Financial Services is examining instances of noncompliance and working to develop a process to report non-compliance to managers within the organization on a regular basis. Planned Implementation Date: June 30, 2017 Responsible Party: Branch Manager, Financial Services
***** I am not sure what is meant here by "update of authorization requirements" but the city should make it clear how it approves of business travel rather than solely who can do the authorization.
3) In this article there was no mention of the fact that the 2016 travel expenses are for a period of time between January 1-September 30, 2016.
We only have values for the decrease in expenses for part of 2016. We don't have the exact decrease for example in the changes in business expenses from 2015 to 2016. The city auditor should provide these updated figures to the public.
Employee Business Expenses Audit November 14, 2016
Table 2 – Changes in Business Expenses 2015 & 2016 (Jan 1- Sept 30) (in thousands) Business Travel Business Travel In Canada $ 415 $ 312 25% decrease Business Travel - Out of Country $ 203 $ 143 29% decrease
From what I've been hearing from good friends who work for the City, a lot of time/labour is also being spent (ie. wasted) on so-called work culture initiatives where, in some departments, numerous staff are being forced to partake in 'culture' committees irrelevant to their job descriptions.
As a past manager who left the City a few months ago due to the state of the City being nothing less than a sh&*t show, my perks did remain untouched. In fact I was told by my manager that my US conference would be approved as it was a "perk", and we in turn rejected all in scope (unionized) staff requests for out of town training and conferences.
So the question you need to ask is: How much was spent on out of scope staff conferences and training vs. in scope staff (be sure to ask about the city manager’s office also, as they always track them separately!)
City manager and city auditor seem to self approve their own expenses but not to worry they will no doubt publicly report their expenses as a new "change" to the lax oversight in place at Edmonton city hall. Now I am curious why any politician would countenance such sloppy oversight of public dollars? It's not acceptable and if everyone else has to follow the rules why not the city manager and the city auditor?