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Home security costs for Calgary councillors to be covered by the city

Calgary city councillors voted 8-7 favour of paying for the installation of home security systems of elected officials, after recent incidents at councillor homes.

After coming out of a closed session where councillors heard a briefing from corporate security, a motion was put forward to cover costs associated with the systems.

That motion, posed by Coun. Courtney Walcott, would allow for up to $8,000 for the equipment and installation of a home security system. It would also allow for $100 per month for the monitoring, which would be a taxable benefit. These would be funded from the city’s corporate costs.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said this would be a temporary solution and would be reviewed in the upcoming four-year budget.

Under the previous bylaw, home security expenses weren’t eligible as councillor expenses. It is also an opt-in program, administration said.

In recent weeks there have been protests outside the homes of Mayor Gondek and Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra. Both had groups of between 15 and 25 during the protests. The groups dispersed before Calgary police had arrived.

Mayor Gondek, who will opt out of the funding, had a security audit done on her home when first elected as a councillor in 2017. At her own expense, she upgraded her home security at that time.

Not urgent business, said Coun. Wyness

There was some concern from Coun. Jennifer Wyness over how quickly it was brought forward. She didn’t think it was urgent and found it ironic that some councillors who supported this, didn’t want to support added funding for Calgary’s police.

“I think we really need to take a good long look at what we are presenting here and take time to build our motions and consult with the community,” she said.  

“Let’s build a safe Calgary. Don’t prioritize ourselves, prioritize Calgarians.”

Coun. Jasmine Mian asked for context around why this was brought forward today.

City manager David Duckworth said they talked about the security of administration and elected officials.

“When it comes to whether it’s public safety, the safety of the administration, or the safety of elected officials, we tried to act as quickly as possible,” said City manager Duckworth.

He said there have been incidents recently reported in media that spurred this conversation.

“I can tell you that these incidents are expected to maybe continue in the future,” he said.

It was learned later that this was first flagged after an admin review of expenses last spring. It was meant for a further conversation, according to Mayor Gondek.

“It was brought to our attention that we should probably have such a conversation today,” she said.

“And as a result, what we have is an opportunity for any councillor that wishes to access support for a home security system.”

Duckworth went on to note that security issues, particularly with elected officials, is on the rise.

“As I mentioned earlier, incidents like these are expected, based on our intelligence, to continue in the near future and perhaps even get worse,” he said.

Additional perks for councillors?

Both Couns. Andre Chabot and Dan McLean said councillors accept the personal safety responsibility when deciding to run for office.

Coun. Chabot said it amounted to giving councillors added compensation.

“I can’t support an amendment that increases Council compensation, because in my opinion, if members of council required increased levels of security, they should be utilizing their own renumeration to cover those costs,” Chabot said.  

“I believe that there are many taxpayers out there that feel that they should have increased amount of security that earning significantly less than we are and they’re not provided that same opportunity.

Coun. Evan Spencer said the conversation is disheartening. And it gives steam to the groups posing potential safety risks.

But Coun. Kourtney Penner said that security isn’t a perk, nor a benefit.

“It is a by-product of the environment that we are living in,” she said.

“I think we owe it to each other to say you matter to me, you matter to the city, and therefore I will support what is needed to keep you safe.”

Coun. Richard Pootmans said they also need to take into account family members of councillors.

“If I’m going to have the luxury of being a publicly-elected official, I don’t want my family worried about my safety or frankly, worried for themselves,” he said.

In his close, Coun. Courtney Walcott said that it’s the duty of council to respond to a changing environment for elected officials.

“This is not asking for special treatment,” Walcott said.

“It’s asking for recognition that the threats faced by elected officials is higher and ever increasing.”