Posted May 12, 2015
The stench of municipal corruption wafts over the Compliance Audit Committee’s (CAC) decision to order a publicly funded audit of a candidate’s election expenses.
Estimated cost? Between $25,000 and $30,000 plus expenses, all of which could be born by the ratepayers.
Last January, members of the Fair Vote Guelph (FVG), a third party organization, started filtering donations of the 2014 candidates for Guelph Council. Their interest lay in those who were supported by GrassRoots Guelph (GRG). They spotted the donation to Glen Tolhurst’s election financial report he submitted.
Mr. Tolhurst, a retired professional engineer with an MBA, ran in ward six and lost. Regardless of the outcome, he dutifully submitted his expense report to City Clerk Stephen O’Brien, claiming the GRG donation.
Who are the members of the Fair Vote Guelph political action group?
Two months passed and Susan Watson, a founding member of FVG, filed a complaint in early April to the CAC about the GRG donation to Mr. Tolhurst. This is a sophisticated organization with deep pockets and a website backing up Ms. Watson. A picture on the website includes a photograph of Susan Watson and Jason Blokhuis, a former candidate for mayor who received more than 3,000 votes last October.
Is it possible that Mr. Blokhuis was a plant by the Farbridge forces to take votes away from Mr. Guthrie? If true, it failed even if blending the number of votes cast for Farbridge and Blokhuis, Guthrie still would have won. Politics makes such strange bedfellows.
The three members of the CAC are George Gorringe, Glen Greer and Lyndsay Monk. They were appointed by the former Farbridge administration in July 2014. It was the month before Mr. O’Brien joined the city as clerk. At this point it should be explained that the Compliance Audit Committee was formed in 2007 by the Farbridge administration.
On April 23, in the council chambers, there was a meeting conducted by Mr. O’Brien as chief electoral officer. Attending were messers Gorringe, Greer and Monk. It was the first meeting for the CAC trio. The purpose was to elect a chairperson and Lyndsay Monk was named. The next motion of the trio was to elect George Gorringe as vice- chair.
Guelph resident David Birtwistle, had written Mr. O’Brien asking questions based on a Guelph Mercury report of the May 6 meeting of the CAC. He pointed out that only two members of the committee voted to order an audit of Mr. Tolhurst’s election financial report. The chair, Lyndsay Monk, was absent.
Enter a Toronto lawyer hired as a “subject matter expert”
The April 23 CAC meeting had another participant who Mr. O’Brien, responding to Mr. Birtwistle’s question, described as a “subject matter expert.”
Well, the minutes of the meeting identified the expert person as Toronto lawyer Jody Johnson of Aird & Berlis. The minutes state that she reviewed the Municipal Elections Act 1966 relating to campaign expenses, financial filing requirements, and compliance audits. She outlined the role and duties of a compliance audit committee, decision points, appointment of an auditor, consultation of an auditor’s report and prosecution and related issues.
As this committee had yet to conduct a hearing after their appointment last year, the experience level of the three members was nil in ascertaining the issue facing them.
Ms. Johnson’s presence at that meeting strongly suggests that her opinion, if offered, could border on coaching a judge before court even opens, a rare occurance. The May 6 meeting could have been easily influenced by any references about the complaint by anyone attending the April 23 meeting.
What did Ms. Johnson advise the CAC regarding this specific case?
Why did the clerk not identify to Mr. Birtwistle the role of expert Jody Johnson?
The Mayor takes a pass claiming solution of the complaint was out of his hands
The mayor commented recently that the city could not interfere with this process because it was a judicial matter. This is very wooly territory.
Why doesn’t the mayor, using his good office, broker a settlement of this issue before costs escalate? That’s what mayors do.
The CAC is a city appointed “civilian” quasi-judicial body of three laypersons. They are not lawyers, so as creatures of the Guthrie administration, how can the Mayor declare his inability to deal with it? Is it an expensive exercise to allegedly obtain clarity of the role of third parties in municipal elections as stated by Ms. Watson?
Why are Ms. Watson and her Fair Vote Guelph members, wasting taxpayer’s money chasing “clarification”? The CAC has admitted it can do nothing to accomplish her stated goal. The auditor cannot possibly make such judgment on professional grounds. Nor can council adjudicate it.
Why was it necessary to hire a Toronto lawyer when the city legal department has three lawyers in house who are expert in matters municipal? Who hired Jody Johnson and why? Was the city legal department too busy to brief the CAC April 23?
How much did Ms. Johnson receive as a fee and expenses that are paid from the public purse?
Only one member of the public appeared at the CAC April 23 meeting
Also attending the crucial April 23 meeting was Dennis Galon, a member of the FVG third party group. Mr. O’Brien told Mr. Birtwistle that Galon was “a member of the public.” He added that the meeting was open to the public and advertised on the city website. Surprise! Only Mr. Galon turned up.
We now know that Galon was part of the Watson/FVG complaint team. He presented a dissertation supporting the contention that GRG was not legally allowed to make donations to candidates in municipal elections.
Why does Galon believe that GRG cannot donate to candidates but it is alright for the Guelph and District Labour Council support of We Are Guelph (WAG) to donate and support some 13 candidates last October?
So did Galon say anything at the April 23 meeting? Did he hand out any material supporting the complaint to members of the CAC?
Why wasn’t Susan Watson or her lawyer Ian Flett at the CAC April 23 meeting? Possibly it was because her ally, Dennis Galon, was there to protect her and FVG interests?
Wither the news media?
Finally, if this was a public meeting April 23 as Mr. O’Brien contends, where was the news media to cover what has evolved into a major news story?
The clerk stickhandled around that one by telling Mr. Birtwistle that no special invitations were sent out regarding the April 23 meeting.
No surprise there.
This complaint by Ms. Watson bears all the earmarks of a carefully orchestrated plan to force a lay committee of council to order an audit on Mr.Tolhurst. If there is a victim here it’s the truth. It remains an awkward attempt to discredit GrassRoots Guelph at the ratepayer’s expense.