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Budget Woes Don't Excuse Unethical Behavior
Friday, Feb. 11, 2011
When the mayor of Calgary took a flight to Toronto recently, a firm doing business with the city paid the $721.50 airfare. He says he took the free flight to save the city money. And despite public criticism over the Toronto trip, he’s flying to Vancouver next week, using a $659.14 ticket paid for by a leadership academy.
Expect to see more of these kinds of justifications for accepting gifts of travel. A municipal budgets are reduced to addressing basic services, travel has been all but eliminated in some cities. But this justification doesn’t pass the ethics test, regardless of Calgary’s financial constraints.
Allowing a contractor or vendor to pay for gifts of travel can compromise the independent and objective relationship needed for fair and good government. Gifts such as this can be seen as a quid pro quo or a reward for a contract. Accepting such freebies can also lead to the “slippery slope” where legitimate business trips merge with personal travel.
Fortunately the city is considering hiring ethics experts to provide guidelines for council travel, gifts, and campaign donations. Replacing the informal, unwritten policies is overdue.
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