A document obtained by CBC News shows a City of Calgary employee worked nearly 714 hours of overtime during the pandemic last year, charging the city $94,818.
That work, which occurred from June to October 2020, was done by the manager in the office of the councillors.
The overtime was recorded after she fired three city employees in the same office.
They were terminated because there wasn't enough work for them to do as the pandemic forced councillors to work primarily from home.
CBC News isn't naming the woman because her overtime was approved and she has been on sick leave since last fall.
The job of approving such expenditures for staff in that office belonged to the chair of the coordinating committee of the councillors' office (CCCO). That was then councillor Ray Jones.
He resigned his seat last October due to health reasons.
Jones doesn't believe he approved
When reached by CBC News, Jones said he recalls authorizing some of the office manager's overtime last year. He estimated it might have been 50 to 60 hours over several months.
That is significantly less than what the city says was authorized by him.
When asked if the total he approved was nearly $95,000, Jones said; "I'm shocked at that dollar figure."
"I don't remember signing for that."
Jones said he would sign off on overtime authorizations as they came in but he doesn't recall signing many of the forms last year.
The overtime bill raises a lot of questions for the former councillor.
"First off, I want to know who signed it," said Jones.
"I can't believe I signed that."
As for what the employee was doing to earn all of that overtime, Jones said he wasn't aware of anything beyond her regular duties.
New chair can't get answers
After he resigned from council, Jones was replaced by Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart as chair of the CCCO.
The committee's job is to supervise the overall operation of the office, which supports each of the councillors and their staff.
Colley-Urquhart said when she became aware of the large number of hours of overtime being claimed and the sums of money involved, she started asking questions of city officials.
But she got what she calls only hollow answers or no answers from officials about the situation.
"I asked for a detailed accounting and breakdown of how that amount of overtime got accumulated and over what period of time and there was no justification that I was given as to why that would have been signed off or granted," said Colley-Urquhart.
"I asked if we could get the money back and they said that I would need to probably talk to my predecessor [Jones]."
The city's top bureaucrat, city manager David Duckworth, refused to do an interview on the matter but he did issue a statement.
"Members of council and ward staff are not subject to oversight from city administration, so I'm unable to speak to specific controls that are in place within the office of the councillors or within council policies," wrote Duckworth.
"The City of Calgary's management exempt staff, which includes employees in the office of the councillors, are subject to the exempt staff policy."
He added that as a result of problems highlighted by the investigation of travel expenses improperly claimed by Coun. Joe Magliocca during this term of council, changes are coming to existing policies which would deal with governance gaps in the councillors' offices.
Mayor got involved
When he found out about the large overtime bill, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he too raised concerns.
"We could have better controls here. This is not a part of the city that I have anything to do with because the councillors are very independent from the mayor's office," said Nenshi.
"But certainly when I found out that some of this stuff was going on, I had a lot of hard questions."
To put the bill in some perspective, Nenshi pointed out that the city found ways to cut millions of dollars in spending during the pandemic.
"If you were going to be really cold-hearted about it, you would actually point out that paying one person overtime is probably cheaper than having three staff members in place," said the mayor.
Who's the boss?
There seems to be disagreement about who is even responsible for the office manager in the councillors' office.
City officials say any issues with that employee rest with the councillors.
But after looking at the office manager's contract with the City of Calgary, Colley-Urquhart said that's not the case.
"The contract is signed by two city executive members. So I would assume it's either the finance department or the city clerk's office that actually signed the manager's contract so I would assume that they are the bosses."
Colley-Urquhart said she does not have the budget approval authority that Jones had when he chaired the committee. That power currently resides with the city clerk, who now oversees the city employees who work in the councillors' office.
Planned reforms of spending procedures in the councillors' offices are expected to be announced soon.