Categories: City Hall

City finds error with Heron’s expenses

After a further review into Councillor Cathy Heron’s expense claims the city has found discrepancies in payments dating back to 2015.

Despite issuing a news release last week stating there “are no funds now payable by or to the City with respect to those claims” the city has now found an issue with one of the claims brought forward by city resident William Tuchak.

After a more detailed review of Heron’s expenses this week by the city, they found that Heron owed $664.80 to the city. She paid the expenses back on Thursday.

The three incidents all involve per diems and mileage claims with the wastewater commission from 2015. One of the claims was one that was brought forward by Tuchak while two others were found during the review. The claims were from meetings on July 17, Sept. 18 and Nov. 20.

All three claims were part of the same invoice and Scoble said that there is no record of a payment made by Heron to the city to pay the invoice.

Due to the confusing nature of the city’s previous expense system coupled with the strange way the city handles expenses relating to the wastewater commission, Scoble said that it is possible that Heron may have never been invoiced for the funds.

“There is no record of an invoice being generated by the city under the old expense claim process and provided to Councillor Heron to request recovery of funds paid to her from the ACRWWC (Alberta Capital Region Waste Water Commission),” Scoble said. “We have no evidence to suggest that Councillor Heron ever received a request for a payment.”

Scoble said that the city and Heron are looking for the missing invoice but in the meantime Heron has paid the expenses to the city.

“Should additional records be produced showing that this amount was previously paid, a refund will be issued to Councillor Heron by the City,” Scoble said.

Scoble said that when processing Heron’s expenses two systematic errors were made. In the past, expenses were done up by city staff based on the councillors’ event calendars. In this instance city staff prepared the expense claim paperwork for Heron to sign off on based on the calendar information. The second error was that there was no verification process in place to confirm an invoice was generated, delivered and paid.

Unlike the rest of the councillors’ committees, the wastewater commission functions in a unique way. Any council member who sits on the commission is treated as an employee of the commission and they deal with expenses directly with the council members. In St. Albert, council has tried to make the process more transparent. Rather than the wastewater commission paying the councillor directly, the money is funnelled through the city’s record-keeping system.

Although the discrepancy was found, the city still had net revenue from Heron sitting on the wastewater commission. When Heron attends wastewater meetings the organization pays her more money than she is allowed to keep. The commissions per diems are higher than the city’s allowable per diems so every time Heron attends a meeting with the commission the city profits.

In 2014 the city had a net revenue of $2,897.78. In 2015 the city had a net revenue of $666.21 after Heron paid the recently discovered discrepancy. In 2016 the city had a net revenue of $726.96.

Since 2015 the city has improved their council compensation tracking methods to include a way to more accurately track invoices. Council has also made the process more simple with the most recent council remuneration changes simplifying the process and eliminating per diems.

During the expense examination the city only looked into Heron’s expenses relating to the wastewater commission. The city has not conducted any review of expenses for any other city councillors.

The other two incidents brought forward by Tuchak were found to have no problems. One incident relating to Heron’s trip to New Orleans were found to have no irregularities with the claim. The claim from Sept 14, 2016 was done under the new expense claim process and the cost of the meeting was recovered from Heron during the same year.

Jennifer Henderson: Jennifer Henderson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2016. She writes about municipal, provincial and federal politics; court and crime; general news and features.