Have you met City Hall's newest millionaires?
They're currently sitting on our City Council.
As Save Calgary has pointed out before, the City Council pension is one of the best perks of the job. In fact, some have likened it to the platinum pension plans that Alberta MLAs used to enjoy before taxpayers rose up in anger and nearly booted the government from office.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has released a new report into Calgary City Council pensions, and it shows that at least three of our Councillors are destined to become millionaires under the current plan. The CTF assessed what the total pension payout to the current City Councillors would be if they collected until age 85.
Which Councillors are in line for the million dollar payouts?
Ray Jones (Ward 10) - $1,250,704.00
Druh Farrell (Ward 7) - $1,259,863.00
Mayor Naheed Nenshi - $1,415,791.00
In each case, Councillors only contributed a fraction of what taxpayers did towards these lavish pensions.
In fact, on average, Councillors only put in $1 for every $5 put in by taxpayers.
The only exception is Councillor Jeromy Farkas (Ward 11) who opted out of the plan, citing its high cost to taxpayers.
This is completely unacceptable - especially as Calgary continues to struggle with high unemployment, business closures, and sluggish economy.
We don't actually know what the final cost will be for taxpayers, because periodically the City dumps in a bunch of extra taxpayer money into the pension plan to top it up. Millions of extra dollars have been paid into the City Council pension plan, with the costs going directly onto the backs of taxpayers in the form of higher property taxes, hiked up fees, larger surcharges, and bigger levies to the City.
However, the news gets worse when it comes to Mayor Nenshi.
He doesn't receive just one taxpayer-funded golden handshake - he gets two!
Because Mayor Nenshi is so highly paid - at a salary over $200,000 per year, he's one of Canada's highest paid mayors - he qualifies for the City of Calgary's "Supplementary Pension Plan for Elected Officials".
This second special pension plan is even more generous than the one Councillors receive - and both are funded nearly entirely by taxpayers.
The Mayor has suggested in previous public statements that the level of taxpayer funding for his pension - sorry, pensions - is pretty well standard for any pension plan.
That's just not the case.
First of all, how common is having two pension plans for a Mayor? Let's see what other cities do.
Also, for most pension plans, the ratio of funding is generally about 1:1 employer contribution per employee contribution - and that's if you're lucky enough to work for a company that offers a pension plan. In some really generous companies, that contribution ratio rises to 2:1.
But it's only in the taxpayer trough that is Calgary's City Hall that you see a ratio of $5 taxpayer dollars per $1 put in by a Councillor.
Calgary taxpayers can't afford to keep making our City Councillors millionaires.
When Save Calgary first raised the alarm on this issue last year, we started a petition demanding that City Council scrap the platinum pension plan.
Today, we're renewing our call and demanding that City Council do away with this overly generous taxpayer-funded perk.
As Calgarians continue to struggle to find jobs, pay their bills, and make ends meet during these tough economic times, shouldn't our City Council at least take a break from putting our hard-earned tax dollars right into their pockets?
We'll keep pushing on this issue and how City Councillors respond - as a City Hall watchdog, that's our mission.
Some City Councillors have been behaving badly.
So badly, in fact, that they decided that something had to be done about it - so the City did what it always does when it encounters a problem, a complaint, or a lawsuit.
They wrote a report.
The report on City Councillor Misconduct was completed a long time ago - before the last election in fact - but it was kept under lock and key, far from the curious public.
Clearly, this was a Council that didn't want its dirty laundry aired in public, and they really didn't want voters to know about it when they had the chance to kick them out of office.
For the last year, Save Calgary has been fighting to have this report made public.
We filed a Freedom of Information request with the City to release the report.
And that's when the waiting began.
Our initial FOIP request was put forward on March 28, 2018, and under the law governing Freedom of Information, the City had 30 days to respond.
That first 30 days came and went, and the City asked for an extension. And then another one. And then even another one.
Save Calgary spent thousands of dollars to get this report released - a report which we knew existed, and which required little to no effort on the part of the City to produce.
We guess that's just the current cost of accountability in Calgary these days.
It was clear that the City didn't want to release the report, and didn't care that it was violating Alberta's Freedom of Information laws in the process.
Save Calgary believes that everyday Calgarians have the right to know about their local government, and the behavior (or misbehavior) of their elected City Councillors, so we filed a complaint with Alberta's Privacy Commissions regarding the unacceptable (and unlawful) delay to our FOIP request.
After dragging its heels kicking and screaming, the City finally informed us that they would be releasing the report on June 28, 2018 - but this was only the beginning of the story.
In the last few days, rumors have begun circulating that copies of the report have been leaked and are in the possession of a handful of media outlets, who have started approaching City Councillors about their content.
This suggests that the report is ready for distribution and that the City is sitting on it until the middle of the summer, while also making it available to some reporters (officially or unofficially).
Here's our theory:
The City knows that this report is damaging. They didn't put it out before the last election because they knew it might impact who voters elected to City Council (every single incumbent City Councillor who ran for re-election was re-elected).
The City knows that voters will be outraged when they learn what some City Councillors have been up to, and the lack of professionalism some of them have displayed while in office.
And the City knows that outraged voters will demand change from City Hall and insist on more transparency and accountability.
So, to soften the blow of this report and to minimize the fall-out of this story, the report is being selectively leaked to some reporters so that h the information comes out in small dribbles and with less fanfare than if the report were to be released fully and openly.
Now, it's important to note that this is just our theory - we have no evidence that the City is engaging in this behaviour (although some journalists DO have copies of an unreleased report) - but if City Hall wanted to end any and all speculation about this issue, their behaviour, and the perception that they are engaging in a game of political damage control, they could do so with one simple act.
They could release the report. In full. Today.
Until they do, Save Calgary will continue to do what we've done for the past year - keep up the pressure on a City Hall that prefers silence to disclosure.
If you believe - like we do - that our City Councillors need to transparent and accountable for their behavior, then reach out to them and demand that the City release the report into Councillor misconduct immediately.
It's time for fresh air at City Hall, and the first step is to #ReleaseTheReport
PS. If you haven't already done so, sign our #ReleaseTheReport petition to demand that City Hall release the report into Councillor misconduct! Sign it here and share with your friends!