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Chief had no conflict of interest on funding report, EPS argues after council debate

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A decision on a new police funding formula was derailed at Edmonton City Hall Monday afternoon as some councillors tried to toss a report over concerns of a perceived conflict of interest involving police chief Dale McFee.

Meanwhile, the Edmonton Police Service is defending its leader by arguing that he has no "material interest" in the funding decision and stating that he recused himself from the report process.

The controversy surrounds a 75-page "Police Budget Review" done by the Community Safety Knowledge Alliance (CSKA) and paid for by the Edmonton Police Commission (EPC).

McFee, who has been EPS chief since 2019, is also chairperson and president of CSKA, a non-profit group that "supports governments and others (to) develop, implement, and assess new approaches to improving community safety and well-being outcomes."

The report is among the materials councillors are using to consider a police budget of $407 million in 2023. A new funding formula could then add money each year for population growth, inflation and additional capital projects.

"I think that there are some inherent biases in the document that I did read, and so that's another reason why I think it needs to be removed," Coun. Erin Rutherford said of the CSKA document.

"I can tell you that there is absolutely other literature that is pertinent and relevant that was not included in this and so that makes me doubt the quality of that content."

Rutherford proposed a motion that council scrap the CSKA report, with councillors Aaron Paquette, Ashley Salvador and Keren Tang also voting in favour, but the motion was defeated 4-9.

No councillors publicly accused McFee of a conflict, but many had concerns with the "perception" surrounding the situation.

"If there is even the slightest whiff of a conflict of interest, that throws into doubt the decision that we can make on how we fund, according to what is presented to us," Paquette said of his vote.

9 COUNCILLORS VOTE TO ACCEPT REPORT

"In terms of any real conflict, there isn't one," argued report author Cal Corley from CSKA.

He worked with consulting firm MNP to write it, along with Bill Hughes from the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy.

Coun. Tim Cartmell was among those who voted to accept the report, saying he was concerned about tarnishing the reputation of everyone involved.

"I understand the apprehension of bias and I understand the feedback that some have received, but I ask us to consider how much of that is wrapped up in the conclusion of the report that some don't like as opposed to an actual bias that might have been at work," Cartmell said.

McFee was not present at the meeting, but EPS defended his actions in a statement to CTV News Edmonton Monday evening.

"In order to manage perception of conflict, you keep the person who you are worried about away from the work through recusal, and this was done," spokesperson Cheryl Sheppard wrote.

The CSKA report compared funding levels in Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Peel Region, Regina, Winnipeg and York.

It concluded that EPS receives the highest level of funding per capita ($397) of all six. Winnipeg was second ($360) and York was last ($298).

When cost per police call was calculated, Edmonton was second lowest in dollars spent ($4,503), Regina was lowest ($3,444) and York was the highest ($10,056).

Council decided to delay a decision on the funding formula until Friday, due to time concerns and so councillors had time to consult with residents.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Joe Scarpelli

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