The startling similarities between scandals in Brampton and financial mismanagement of Guelph

Posted September 7,2014

Character and accountability are the bedrocks of the public trust.

When you elect an individual, you place your trust in that person to represent you and your interests in the public sphere. It’s not about what they choose to deliver as your representative, but it’s about protecting your interests.

The cousin of bedrock principles is accountability. You want your representative to be truthful, open and accessible. You don’t want to be told half-truths or not have your phone calls or emails unanswered.

Those elected to public office have a sacred responsibility to serve the public in a manner that befits that trust.

So, when retiring Guelph Coun. Gloria Kovach proposes that council expenses be spelled out annually and not swept into two categories such a travel and sundries, you have to believe she knows what she is talking about.

Does anyone know the details of the mayor’s expenses? Or members of council? There are plenty of rumours floating around about lush lunches and trips combining business and pleasure. Or tabs run at favourite watering holes.

Under current management of the public’s business, expenses are a deep, dark secret covered up by two blanket categories in the official city financial reports that defy true accountability.

Yes, there is even a slush fund for councilor’s professional development (PD) to access for attending out of town conventions, trade shows, conferences that interest them and their views. Coun. Leanne Piper believes that elected officials should attend PD opportunities to sharpen their skill sets. The limit is $3,500 a year for PD. If certain councilors do not use their allocation in the fund, then a councilor who enjoys this perk can access the unused portion of the fund to increase his or her travels.

In Coun. Piper’s case she attended a conference in Portland, Oregon, to study why that city is regarded as one of the most people friendly cities in America. Where is the accountability in this trip? Were the findings told to the public or, even fellow councilors? What are the cost details of this trip?

Again was this trip necessary? And shouldn’t professional development assets be directed toward staff? Councilors are elected for finite periods in office. They are elected because voters believe they are qualified to perform their duties as representatives of the people. They are not elected to further their education during their tenure at public expense. Particularly when there is no accountability as to the outcome of such excursions and benefits to the people’s business.

We don’t have to look much farther than the City of Brampton where a spendthrift mayor has been found to have spent in excess of $500,000 in ten years, travelling and having a limousine service at her disposal at all times.

There is a Guelph connection to all this. The details of the Brampton Mayor’s alleged excessive spending were uncovered by an independent forensic audit of the city’s books, initiated by the city council. Starting to sound familiar? It gets better.

One of the candidates running for mayor in Brampton is Linda Jeffery, the former Liberal minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. She turned down a Guelph citizens’ petition requesting an independent forensic audit of the City of Guelph’s finances and operations.

The minister defied her own staff’s findings that confirmed the financial data in the four-page petition was accurate.

So, in mayoralty candidate Linda Jeffery’s eyes, what’s convenient for Brampton is not convenient when it comes to Guelph. Go figure.

The issue had nothing to do with the content of the petition. Jeffery knew she was leaving the government but in one of her last gestures in the name of cabinet solidarity, she turned down the GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) application to help fellow cabinet minister Liz Sandals get re-elected.

Why, you may ask? Last fall, Sandals received an advance copy of the petition from GRG, as a courtesy, on the understanding it was embargoed until the minister received her copy.

The last thing Ms. Sandals wanted was to have an independent forensic audit of the City of Guelph’ s finances conducted in the middle of the looming provincial election.

So Ms. Sandals got her way and easily won re-election. Too bad her blind political ambition trampled the right of citizens to hold the city government accountable.

A little more irony. The Brampton integrity commissioner is in the midst of investigating whether Mayor Susan Fennell has breached the city’s code of conduct. His name is Robert Swayze. Yes, the same individual used by the City of Guelph.

His two forays were investigating Coun. Cam Guthrie’s right to demand public documents from the staff. This was schmoozed over at a cost of some $10,000. He was called in again to staff complaints that Coun. Maggie Laidlaw was bullying staff regarding a committee of adjustment meeting and acting unprofessional. Laidlaw with some reluctance, apologized, then soon after she announced she would not be a candidate in the October 27 election. She reneged on that statement and is running again in ward three. Mr. Swayze was paid some $4,000 for his role in helping defuse the situation.

The bottom line? Character and accountability are the two bedrock issues that count in the up-coming election

Choose carefully.

Tickets are available for the GrassRoots Guelph all-candidates barbeque Thursday, 18 at the Guelph Golf and Curling club. The charger is $20 and that covers the barbeque and costs of holding council all-candidates debates in each of the six wards. Call Rena at 519 837 4010 for tickets.

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