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Three-week selection turnaround puts the spotlight on 2021 Calgary recreation projects

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said that three weeks was too tight a turnaround for proper vetting of $154 million in recreation projects approved last year.

Mayor Gondek was responding to a city auditor’s report delivered Thursday. It showed the lack of a formal process for ad hoc infrastructure projects, including equity criteria that weren’t fully effective.

Six projects were approved last June. The list of projects went through former Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s office prior to approval, the committee heard Thursday. The money came from the collection of off-site levies and community investment reserves. It was three months prior to the 2021 municipal election.

Mayor Gondek said she’s giving the prior administration the benefit of the doubt that they were trying to expedite the process.

“Perhaps the mayor’s office was speaking with members of council to make sure that people understood what was being prioritized and how. I don’t recollect having such a conversation,” Mayor Gondek said.

She said the prior four years as councillor for Ward 3, she was constantly trying to find more dollars for the north central part of Calgary.

“When it comes to the term equity, I was disappointed at the time that we were looking at quadrants receiving bonus dollars, if we can call it that,” she said.

The auditor’s report made three key recommendations. They include having a formal process for selection of ad-hoc infrastructure, the creation of clear, formal equity criteria for these projects and defined roles and responsibilities to execute the first two recommendations.  

“What I will say is that Calgary Recreation do have some great information on equity,” said City Auditor Liz Ormsby.

“The example we’ve given in the report is geographical equity, which they use in planning to identify service gaps. What we weren’t able to identify though, for this specific set of investments is how all of that fed through.”

No formal definition of equity

Heather Johnson, the City’s Director of Recreation, said they look at equity from several different aspects.

However, they don’t have a formal definition, she said.

“I would say that in recreation at the moment, we’re sort of in the phase of, we know equity when we see it and we know when we don’t see it,” Johnson said.

“We’re fully in agreement that we need to increase our sophistication as it comes to being able to give quantifiable definitions, measures, targets and prioritization criteria.”

Johnson said there is a clear lack of recreation infrastructure in parts of Calgary. Demand and growth in certain areas of Calgary created a situation where the level of service depends on where you live.

Mayor Gondek said this instance demonstrated the need for a better process. But, the timeline for selection played a part. The mayor said councillors were under intense pressure to make a decision.

“We had (processes) in place that we could have used. I don’t know why administration agreed to a three-week turnaround. That continues to haunt me,” she said.

Members of the audit committee approved the report. Recommendations were agreed to by administration and should be implemented by mid to late 2023.