City Clerk explains how auditing a defeated candidate’s $4,000 election costs is $30,000

Posted May 9, 2015

The following response to questions raised by David Birtwistle, about the Compliance Election Committee’s decision to order an audit of former council candidate, Glen Tolhurst. City Clerk Stephen O’Brien replied to Mr. Birtwistle’s questions.

In the pubic interest, Guelph Speaks editor, Gerry Barker, responds to Mr. O’Brien’s explanations.

O’Brien: Thank you (Mr. Birtwistle) for your email. To answer your questions, I offer the following responses:

  1. The Municipal Elections Act (MEA) requires (s. 81[5]) that the Compliance Audit Committee (CAC) make a decision within 30 days of receipt of an application. Given the timelines for when the application received and in respect of our public notice and publication timelines, this was the only date that was available where a quorum of the committee could be present. Any delay of the meeting time further would have put us in contravention of the MEA.

Response: The definition of a quorum needs more explanation. Does the city’s procedural bylaw permit a quorum of two of three members of a committee to conduct hearings? If this was the only date available, why wasn’t the chairperson present on May 6? Is it possible a quorum of only one member could conduct the committee’s business? It defies logic how this two-person committee could make a decision that can cost the ratepayers more than $30,000 plus costs. They could have deferred a decision by holding a public meeting with all three members available, to determine if an audit is required. Further, why was this complaint made almost two months after Mr. Tolhurst submitted his financial report?

  1. Yes, the City’s Procedural by-law along with specific Rules of Procedure for the CAC apply. Both documents are available on our website.

Response: I realize that the rules must be followed. But this procedure to allow publishing notices of information and public meetings on the Internet, in this case, is a travesty of the public’s right to know. Popular use of the Internet is not widely viewed by many residents. The assumption that Internet is adequate notice is not true and is perceived as self-serving.

  1. You are incorrect in certain regards to this question. There was a meeting held on April 23rd, 2015 to orient members of the CAC to the process. Ms. Watson’s lawyer was not present but Dr. Galon was as a member of the public. No delegations were permitted at this meeting as the CAC only received a presentation from myself and a subject matter expert. No one was provided with a formal invite to the meeting. If individuals were interested in attending, the meeting notice was published to our website and individuals were free to attend given that this was an open and public meeting.

Response: It is odd that only one member of the public, Dennis Galon, a supporter of Ms. Watson, attended the April 23 meeting. Did he address the committee? Were there minutes of this meeting? Were all three members of the CAC in attendance? It indicates that the principals or the public did not receive adequate notification. As the senior official in charge of this matter, I believe it is incumbent on you to ensure that the test of fair play, in a highly contentious issue is met. Even as you state the meeting was published on the city website, it fails fair notification of the public and the principal, Mr. Tolhurst. Also, who is the “subject matter expert” and their role in this matter?

The question arises that the city website notification of a public meeting does not serve all of the public. Many folks including the senior population do not have access to a computer or the skill to operate it. While this form of notification may be permissible under the Act, the public perception is that it is not sufficient notice. The city using this method of communication expects that all citizens are on the city website every day. I seriously doubt that standard exists.

  1. No closed meeting was held in determining any action of the committee. The committee’s work was done in an open public meeting on May 6, 2015.

Response: I agree May 6 was a public meeting. What led up to it is open to question for reasons stated above.

  1. As per section 81.1(5) of the MEA, the City is required to pay all costs in relation to the CAC’s operation and activities. That being said, section 81(15) of the MEA allows for the Council to recover the auditor’s costs from the applicant should the auditor’s report indicate that there was no apparent contravention and the CAC finds that there were no reasonable grounds for the application.

Response: It is understandable that the 30-day deadline to a CAC respose to a complaint is designed to stop frivolous and time-wasting complaints. After waiting more than two months to file a complaint, the law was used to influence the outcome. That’s why that April 23 meeting to brief the committee was vital to holding a balanced hearing. Dr. Galon’s presence negated that committee responsibility. Mr. O’Brien, you would have been better off dragging a couple of citizen’s off the street to maintain a measure of a balanced public interest.

Comment

Before an audit begins the public has the right to know the audit parameters and the entire operation must be open and transparent. Under no circumstances should the auditor consider examining the personal finances of the principals.

This procedure is nothing but a political exercise to embarrass Mr. Tolhurst and GrassRoots Guelph. The travesty is that the citizens will end up paying for this willfulness initiated by a small cadre of Karen Farbridge supporters.

Be reminded of the $10,000 paid to the integrity commission to investigate former councillor Cam Guthrie. That turned out to be a waste of the public’s money.

This vindictive effort by Ms. Watson will trump that when all the costs are in. And will the city council, with its Farbridge majority, force the costs onto Ms. Watson if the audit fails to prove her case?

Finally, the committee voted, based on mostly hearsay evidence, to spend an estimated $25,000 to 30,000 to audit a defeated candidate’s expenses that were less than $4,000 in election spending.

This is a public outrage.

 

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