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A City of Ottawa employee went Christmas shopping during staff hours; another called in sick after having their vacation denied and went on a lengthy road trip; another used a local fire station to charge their electric vehicle.

These are some of the findings in the Auditor General's latest report about calls to the City of Ottawa's anonymous fraud and waste reporting hotline.

The hotline, which was launched for City employees in 2005 and expanded to the public in 2009, is a 24/7 service where people can anonymously report incidents that may violate City by-laws, regulations or procedures, or constitute a misuse of City resources.

The auditor general says 224 reports were made to the hotline in 2019, up from 190 in 2018. Just over half of all reports in 2019, 54 per cent, came from other City of Ottawa employees, while 46 per cent came from members of the public.

The hotline is accessible either by phone or online. In 2019, 79 per cent of users submitted reports online.

The hotline can be reached by calling 1-866-959-9309 or by visiting https://www.ottawa.fraudwaste-fraudeabus.ca/

Among the findings, the Auditor General says one City employee used a City-owned vehicle while on break during a shift to go shopping on Christmas Eve. The employee was advised that their actions were not appropriate and that further disciplinary action would be taken if a similar situation reoccurred.

Another employee was found to have taken a City vehicle to a salon for a treatment while in uniform.

Other employees were booking a boardroom every day to play cards during their lunch hour, preventing it from being used for business purposes. They were told to only book the boardroom on the day of, based on availability, rather than having a re-occurring booking. 

One employee had requested a vacation, but was denied. That employee then went on sick leave, according to the AG, even providing a doctor's note with medical restrictions. It was later discovered the employee took an 800 km motorcycle road trip during the sick leave, in contravention of the medical restrictions outlined in the doctor's note. The employee was issued a five-day suspension without pay.

In another case, an employee was found to have been regularly charging their personal electric vehicle at a City fire station. Management implemented a moratorium on the practice of charging personal electric vehicles at all fire stations.

Some cases are more serious, including an employee who was caught stealing cash. The employee resigned upon being caught. Another employee "retired" following a negotiation with the union after being caught stealing office supplies.

In another case, an employee was given a 20-day suspension without pay and was demoted because of "inappropriate use" of the City-issued cell phone. While the nature of the incident was not disclosed, the AG said that the investigation revealed further allegations of similar behaviour in addition to the initial report to the hotline.

It's not just employees who were found out. 

In one case, the AG says an individual moved outside city limits but did not update their address so as not to have to pay higher non-resident fees for their child's classes. That person's account has been frozen, as their new address still hasn't been confirmed. 

“Today’s reports show that the City of Ottawa maintains a framework that supports a very high level of ethics and integrity,” said Auditor General Ken Hughes in a press release on Tuesday. “It also gives residents confidence that the City is constantly looking for ways of becoming more effective and efficient.”