Did City Clerk Stephen O’Brien get a call from Karen about her friend Susan Watson?

Posted September 2, 2015

It is a stunning pre-determination outcome of the Compliance Audit Committee (CAC) meeting September 10. City clerk Stephen O’Brien has said he doesn’t believe that Susan Watson has to reimburse the city for the cost of her election complaint.

O’Brien did not reveal the total audit costs except that he said the auditor William Molson’s fee was fixed at $7,500. The fee that Mr. Molson contracted for was $7,500.plus $500 for each meeting. In addition the clerk did not include the fee paid to the “subject matter expert” Toronto lawyer, Jody Johnson, hired to advise the CAC members of their duties and responsibilities. Nor does he mention the staff costs spent on the CAC audit.

A rough estimate is the city so far has spent more than $10,000 on the Watson complaint brought on Glen Tolhurst for receiving a donation for $400 from GrassRoots Guelph Voters Association Inc (GRG). As a candidate in the 2014 civic election, Mr. Tolhurst spent less than $2,900 on his ward six campaign in which he was not elected.

The Watson complaint was based on three elements:

* Tolhurst did not claim the value of GRG advertising in the Guelph Tribune of which he was one of 12 candidates suggested for consideration by voters.

Mr. Molson disagreed saying that the GRG advertising campaign was not and should not be considered a contribution to Tolhurst’s campaign.

* Susan Watson stated that GRG erroneously called itself a business when in fact it was a citizen’s group.

Mr. Molson disagreed. GRG is a non-profit incorporated organization under the Ontario Corporations Act and therefore entitled to make donations in municipal elections.

Tolhurst’s greatest sin: Clerical errors valued less than $10

The auditor noted that Tolhurst contravened the Ontario Municipal Elections Act (MEA) by failing to note in his official expenses report the cost of a city map ($5.50), checked off the wrong box on the form and under-reported an expense by $1.

It is ludicrous for O’Brien to suggest that Tolhurst contravened the MEA on that basis so therefore Watson does not have to repay the city. The auditor, in his report, said the reporting errors were not enough to be considered a contravention of the MEA

Why, before the committee has had a chance to consider the Molson report, is the city clerk claiming that Ms. Watson, the person who made the false allegations that caused the audit, is not responsible?

His comments, as a senior city official, are unworthy, unprofessional and slanted. The people have already determined that this complaint was vindictive and frivolous. And conducted at the public expense.

The clerk says the CAC could “commence legal action against Tolhurst if the auditor found that Tolhurst contravened the Act”.

Does the city of Guelph really want to go to court over election expense errors under $10? The CAC’s own auditor stated the errors were not significant to warrant such an action.

The committee “will probably weigh the perceived and severity of the contraventions,” the clerk added.

Clerk says we have to follow proper procedures

While the CAC is independent of Council, the clerk stated, “it is their job to ensure that the proper process is followed.”

Mr. O’Brien, are you suggesting that the proper process was not followed? Are you basing your statement that repayment of public funds by Susan Watson “is not going to happen?”

Let’s get this straight. The CAC May 6 ordered an audit of Glen Tolhurs’s election expenses. May 20, the CAC selected William Molson to perform the audit over the objections of one CAC member, who said an auditor with more experience in such cases should be selected. Molson’s bid was the lowest of three.

This appears to be following procedures.

Mr. Molson commenced the audit process in June. Nowhere during the audit investigation were there failures of procedures.

When Molson released the report, he found that the accusations made by Susan Watson failed to meet the test under which she claimed Tolhurst contravened the Act.

The CAC has little choice in this matter. It’s own auditor has basically said the complaint is unfounded. His judgment was based on law, the MEA and the Corporations Act. He said changing those laws was beyond the scope of the CAC.

The most egregious part of this is O’Brien’s blatant interference in the process is that Watson would not have to repay the public funds used to support her claims

Hello, Karen?


Filed under Between the Lines

6 responses to “Did City Clerk Stephen O’Brien get a call from Karen about her friend Susan Watson?

  1. Shane

    I swear when people working at city open their mouths nothing but stupid falls out . Honestly I have no faith in this city and I can tell you that miss Watson will not pay for this . She has to many friends down there

  2. Glen N. Tolhurst

    Having read the article in the Mercury by Shuttleworth “Auditor’s election compliance report goes to City of Guelph committee next week” one must ask the question “why would the city clerk even make any comment to a reporter”? This is a quasi-judicial issue and he should not have had any comment on it at all. Who does he think he is? Does he not know the bounds of his duties to ALL taxpayers? For such a great error in judgement, he should face immediate disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

  3. bostoncollie

    I’m angry about this. Can’t imagine how furious you must be Mr. Tolhurst. Has anyone apologized to you?

  4. Joe Black

    This cIty really stinks the province should audit this city maybe we could get Hazel to do it

  5. Guido Sartor

    The local so called media are quick to publish this yet when a citizen wants to express his opinion on this issue, calling for Mrs. Watson to be responsible for this waste of Taxpayers money I was ignored by both papers. We have a media problem in this town.

    • Guido Sartor: I agree with you regarding the print and broadcast media in Guelph. The major print media is controlled by Metroland publishing, a division of TorStar owners of the Toronto Star. In Guelph the two papers have been pro-left supporters for a number of years. There is also the matter of a large advertising account with the city that publishes full-page “City News” in the Guelph Tribune. The owners of the papers do not want to endanger that large account. After all the soft, hand-out reports produced by the city and rewritten as news in the two papers, it leaves few resources to investigate and obtain two sides of the story. This is a monopoly that fails to meet the standards of community journalism. Having said that, don’t blame the staffs of the papers. They must answer to head office located at the Record in Kitchener. It’s another Metroland property.

      But guelphspeaks is on the job and with very limited resources, occasionally manages to scoop the papers.

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