Coun. Joe Magliocca says he will repay airfare upgrades he expensed to the city after a council committee examined his flight costs Tuesday.
The total expenses the Ward 2 councillor found to have inappropriately billed to the city now total nearly $9,000, including a little more than $2,700 for business class and executive class flights that the committee agreed he should repay.
Magliocca responded to a question about his expenses Tuesday for the first time since a forensic audit of his expenses was released in July.
That report determined that he had inappropriately expensed $5,657 in hotel costs, meals and hosting. But a little more than $10,000 were still in question, including $8,866.73 in flight upgrades — Magliocca booked business or premium class on seven flights between November 2017 and September 2019, even though council policy says economy fares are normal unless they’re unavailable.
The flights were part of Magliocca’s job at the time, travelling to meetings and conferences when he was council’s representative on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities board of directors.
Magliocca told the auditors that he would be willing to reimburse the difference between his flight costs and the average airfare other officials paid. A city report presented Tuesday says that total comes to $3,294.25.
Magliocca has already voluntarily repaid $6,220.66 to the city this year. He initially repaid all his alcohol-related expenses since the last election as well as many of his hosting receipts. Taking into account Magliocca’s overpayment on the amount the auditors already found ineligible, the priorities and finance committee agreed the councillor should pay back another $2,730.59.
In a text message to Postmedia, Magliocca said he is “in the process” of voluntarily repaying the flight costs in excess of other councillors.
He said he chose upgraded flights because of his weight at the time.
“On a more personal note, I have previously struggled with my weight. I weighed over 300 pounds which was why I booked seats with more room,” he said.
“Over the last couple years, I made a commitment to be more healthy and I have lost nearly 100 pounds. I have always intended to follow City policies strictly and, as previously stated, I apologize if I was in error.”
Magliocca has said he would be willing to pay the difference between his flights and the average airfare expenses from other elected officials. So the city has been pulling data about what that looks like #yyccc pic.twitter.com/Rou83OZrvT
— Madeline Smith (@meksmith) October 13, 2020
Regardless of the reason at the time, unless economy fares are unavailable, flight upgrades aren’t an eligible expense under council policy.
Magliocca told the external audit firm while they were preparing the investigation that “at times I booked within days of the flight resulting in limited seating ability.”
But the authors of the report said besides one flight booked 10 days in advance and another booked 21 days prior, flights had been booked months in advance, and they questioned whether economy fares were not available.
Some flights didn’t cost much more than the average others paid, including an upgraded flight to Penticton that was only $38 over the average.
But five of the seven upgraded flights cost hundreds more than the average, including two that were close to $900 more.
In Magliocca’s text message, he also took aim at Mayor Naheed Nenshi.
“I would hope that council also apply this same standards of audit and review to the travel expenses of the rest of council,” he said, citing Nenshi’s economic development trip to India in February.
That trip was led by Calgary Economic Development, and cost the organization $90,000. It also included CED representatives and Coun. George Chahal. The group’s travel tourism and agriculture, but the main purpose was to sell India’s massive film industry on the attractions of producing in southern Alberta.
Earlier this year, the city auditor examined a sample of mayor’s and councillors’ expenses from this council term, excluding Magliocca.
That report found that just two of the expenses they looked at didn’t adhere to council policy, but after speaking to councillors, they found they were “valid and incurred while performing elected official duties.”
More to come…