Tag Archives: City Clerk Stephen O’Brien

Your cost of Susan Watson’s baseless complaint is $11,400

The Guelph File

By Gerry Barker

Posted October 2, 2015

The abortive attempt by Susan Watson to agree with her premise that Glen Tolhurst was guilty of accepting $400 from GrassRoots Guelph for his campaign has left the public holding the bag for $11,400.

The Compliance Audit Committee (CAC) threw its principles out the window when it said it would not recommend making Susan Watson pay for her frivolous ascertions that led to the public expense.

It’s reasoning was that Tolhurst did contravene the Municipal Elections Act (MEA) by failing to report an expense of $5.60 for a city map, accepting a cheque of $198 from an individual that was intended to be for himself and his wife and making a mathematical error of $1.

All that was worth $11,400?

The auditor hired to investigate Mr. Tolhurst’s official returns, stated the Tolhurst incidental contraventions did not mean he contravened the MEA because they were of a minor nature and did not affect his decision or the outcome of the election.

The three CAC members, Lyndsay Monk, George Gorringe and Glen Greer, made a gutless and irresponsible decision in the face of the auditor’s complete exoneration of both Mr. Tolhurst and GrassRoots Guelph (GRG). But they’re not concerned because they received $1,700 for their service.

The CAC members lacked morality, a clear understanding of justice and accepted advice, in private, by Farbridge appointed city staffers, including the City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien. A week before the CAC decision, Mr. O’Brien told the media that Susan Watson would not be responsible for the costs of the audit. On the day of decision, in the closed-door meeting, the CAC was instructed by a city lawyer to not order Susan Watson to pay the costs of this trial.

In a nutshell, that’s what this was all about. The CAC members, all appointed by former Mayor Karen Farbridge, abused Mr. Tolhurst’s honesty in reporting the GRG donation and attempting to neuter GRG, the citizen’s organization that played an effective role in the defeat of Karen Farbridge, Susan Watson’s friend and supporter.

Citizens should be aware that this was a planned and concerted attempt to discredit GRG and seven months after the 2014 civic election, citizens will end up paying for it.

Here is the breakdown of the Watson complaint costs

Auditor William Molson -$8,249

Aird and Berlis (consultant Jody Johnson) – $1,440

CAC members – $1,700

The city clerk stated the costs are approximate because the staff time used in relation to the audit was not tracked or costed. There were no charges included for facilities used in relation to the audit such as meeting rooms or the council chambers.

Hmm. Do you think that this exercise in abuse of the public purse and staff is worth what the outcome has cost?

It is now crystal clear that Susan Watson has many friends in key positions on city staff. How else could she have pulled this off without overt support from key staff members?

No more proof is needed to understand why this complaint ever got started. There was ongoing complicit support by the staff and the appointed members of the CAC to discredit citizens and their opposition to the previous administration.

The auditor figured it out. But why was Susan Watson so protected by certain members of the city staff? Why was the city council silent when it became apparent what was occurring right under their noses?

The capper came when the Guelph Mercury headline over the story about the CAC decision, said Tolhurst would not be charged. With what?

Really! Was that headline accurate in describing what happened the night of September 10? The Mercury jumped the gun as the CAC never considered charging Tolhurst but accepted the auditor’s report that he did not contravene the MEA. Nor did GRG.

This remains a black mark against the city senior staff leadership all of whom were appointed by the previous administration.

Using the people’s money to attack citizens is right out of the fascist playbook.

It will not be forgotten.

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Why should Susan Watson escape paying the costs of her election expenses complaint?

Editor’s note: Today is Part One of an analysis of the Thursday night meeting conducted by the Compliance Audit Committee (CAC), regarding the complaint by Susan Watson. She claimed that council candidate Glen Tolhurst contravened the Municipal Elections Act (MEA) by accepting a donation from GrassRoots Guelph Voters Association Inc. (GRG).

 Part Two examines council’s role in ordering Ms. Watson to pay the costs of her complaint. Also a review of related, unreported details of Mayor Cam Guthrie’s 2014 campaign and his performance year to date. The devil is in the details and Thursday night’s CAC meeting revealed that little has changed since the mayor’s election. GB

Part One – Posted September 12, 2015

It was a meeting that became an embarrassment for all citizens of Guelph. It’s advertised purpose was to receive the report of Auditor William Molson absolving Mr. Tolhurst of contravening the MEA. His report also concluded that GRG also did not contravene the Act by donating $400 to Mr. Tolhurst’s campaign.

Let’s back up a bit and review how this complaint occurred and who was implicated ensuring that Mr. Tolhurst and GRG paid for whatever Susan Watson and her friends perceived was illegal.

The quarterback in this exercise was City Clerk Stephen O’Brien. He reports to deputy Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Mark Amorosi who reports to CAO, Ann Pappert. The three members of the CAC are Lyndsay Monk, Glen Greer and George Gorringe

The single connection these people share is that they were all appointed or hired by Karen Farbridge, the former mayor.

Susan Watson is a friend of the Mayor and financial supporter, along with her partner. Dr. Ian Digby. So there is no question of her loyalty to the former mayor.

Watson filed her application to the CAC in early April with the city clerk. On April 23, O’Brien called a meeting of the CAC and hired Toronto lawyer, Jody Johnson, to brief the CAC as to its responsibilities. The minutes of that meeting showed Johnson made no recommendations as to the outcome of the complaint.

There was an oddity however. Dennis Galon, a supporter of Watson, attended the meeting. When O’Brien was questioned why Mr.Tolhurst and his counsel were not present, he said it was a public meeting that was advertised on the city website. Galon was the only member of the public who attended the Johnson briefing.

The plot sickens

Thursday night Galon, who publically stated he supported the re-election of Farbridge in spirit and financially, said the only reason he attended the meeting was because he received a call from Watson in Vancouver asking him to attend on her behalf. What other reason would he be there? As an interested private citizen?

On May 6, the CAC conducted a hearing in which Watson’s lawyer presented her case claiming that GRG, acting as a third partly, illegally donated $400 to Mr. Tolhurst. David Starr representing Mr. Tolhurst argued the opposite stating that GRG as an incorporated body was permitted under the MEA to donate funds to candidates.

There were only two CAC members at this hearing and both voted to approve conducting the audit. It is now clear that the fix was in. Neither CAC member was a lawyer or elected to office. O’Brien is instructed to search for a qualified individual to conduct the audit.

There was no request for a proposal (RFP) issued but three firms were invited to submit proposals. O’Brien selected the lowest bidder, William Molson, CA CPA, of Toronto, on the grounds that he had experience conducting CAC audits.

In the course of his audit, Mr. Molson interviewed Mr. Tolhurst, Ms. Watson and Gerry and Barbara Barker, representing GRG.

In early August, he released his nine-page report. In it he clearly stated that Mr. Tolhurst and GRG did not contravene the MEA. It was a thorough and complete repudiation of the Watson complaint and also of the basis of her ill-defined reasons for requesting the audit.

The staff backs the wrong horse

It was a stunning defeat for not only Watson but the city staff, particularly clerk O’Brien, and the feckless CAC, who were not only complicit but hand-maidens in this frivolous charade. They were using their authority to discredit and victimize an innocent citizen, but also a legitimate citizen’s activist organization.

The giveaway occurred September 2 when O’Brien was quoted in the Mercury stating Watson paying the costs of the audit “was not going to happen.” He made that comment eight days before the CAC meeting to receive the Molson report.

One might consider that statement as interfering with the process.

On Thursday night, sitting beside the CAC chairperson Lyndsay Monk, is O’Brien as her advisor. It was confirmation that the fix was in to get Watson off the hook for her repudiated complaint, the cost of which, taxpayers now have to absorb.

Hypothetically, if the CAC had prosecuted Glen Tolhurst, any superior court judge would have laughed that out of court for Tolhurst failing to get a receipt for the $5.60 he paid for a city street map and a $1.00 posting error in his official election expenses statement.

Following an in-camera session with a city legal person, the CAC struggled with motions in a clumsy and confusing manner. The idea was to get the CAC out of its responsibility dilemma by recommending to council not to prosecute Mr. Tolhurst. They sidestepped the issue of liability to the taxpayers of the cost of Watson’s excursion into the improbable.

McCarthyism: How power is abused

This was a power play to use public money to discredit citizens and it failed.

It reminds us of the late U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, who, in the 1950’s, used his position as chairman of the Un-American Activities Committee, to accuse thousands of Americans of being Communists. He ruined many innocent people who were blacklisted by suspicious employers. His aggressive investigations illegal, using lies and slanted techniques, became known as McCarthyism.

The Watson complaint mirrors the McCarthy approach to claim illegalities that had no foundation in the facts.

The senior staff of our city, those already named, should be ashamed of participating in this attempt by a disgruntled and vengeful individual and her supporters.

And despite the outcome, Susan Watson never apologized to Glen Tolhurst or GRG.

The question is where was Mayor Guthrie when the city staff were breaking their code of conduct by participating in a blatant politic attack on innocent citizens and then it has to be funded by the taxpayers?

Monday, September 14 – Part Two: Will council debate the public-funded costs of the Watson complaint? The commentary will examine the role of the mayor and his performance after ten months in office.

 

 

 

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Is the City Clerk right absolving Susan Watson of repaying her election complaint costs to the city?

Posted September 4, 2015

This case concerns a complaint made by Susan Watson, friend and supporter of former mayor Karen Farbridge, that GrassRoots Guelph illegally donated $400 to Glen Tolhurst, a candidate in the ward six 2014 election. Mr. Tolhurst lost his bid for council.

The people of Guelph have already passed judgment on this case. The vast majority believes that the complaint did not warrant spending public money to satisfy the whim of a disgruntled individual.

The more interesting part of this costly charade is the role of the senior city staff. From the CAO, Ann Pappert, to the three members of the Compliance Audit Committee (CAC) to city clerk, Stephen O’Brien, were all appointed by the Farbridge administration.

Collectively, it is now crystal clear of their involvement expediting the audit and that now the city clerk says Susan Watson won’t have to pay the public funds spent for her vexatious and frivolous complaint. William Molson CA, who conducted the audit, thoroughly dispelled the attempt to discredit Mr. Tolhurst and GrassRoots Guelph.

It was city clerk O’Brien who stated in Wednesday’s Mercury, that Susan Watson having to repay the city for its costs “was not going to happen.”

It now appears that the CAC on September 10, can recommend that Susan Watson doesn’t have to repay the citizen’s money for her ill-founded excursion to seek revenge over her friend’s defeat.

With respect, such a decision would be at its own peril.

O’Brien has painted himself and the Watson faction into a corner that even has the left members of council very nervous.

Follow the money

Here’s why. The following councillors all received campaign donations from Susan Watson: Leanne Piper ($500), Cathy Downer ($500), James Gordon ($250), June Hofland ($500), and Mike Salisbury ($250). Curious question: Why did the women candidates receive twice as much from Ms. Watson as the men?

But here’s the problem. All of those councillors must recuse themselves from voting if the Watson repayment matter comes to council. It would be a breach of conflict of interest regulations, because they have a pecuniary interest due to receiving money from Susan Watson.

Guelphspeaks urges citizens to attend the CAC meeting September 10 starting at 5:30 p.m. This dreadful example of the misuse of power still exists today, ten months after the people voted to end such practices. Make your presence felt to let them know this kind of chicanery of using other people’s money to achieve vengeance, must stop. GB

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The GRG submission delivered in person to city clerk Stephen O’Brien September 3, 2015

TO:  The members of the Compliance Audit Committee (CAC), Lyndsay Monk, Glen Greer and George Gorringe

FROM: Gerry Barker on behalf of GrassRoots Guelph Voters Association Inc. (GRG)

SUBJECT: Written submission concerning the application of an audit of Glen Tolhurst, a former council candidate in 2014.

The following points* represent the views of GRG. These are in regard to the complaint of Susan Watson about a $400 donation made by GRG to former city council candidate, Glen TolhurstTO: The members of the Guelph Compliance Audit Committee (CAC), Lyndsay Monk, Glen Greer and George Gorring

* GRG fully supports the findings in the nine-page report by the CAC appointed auditor, William Molson, CA, CPA. We would further thank him for his open and thorough analysis.

* Although named in the Watson application for an audit, GRG was never given the opportunity to state its case before the CAC meetings April 23, 2015 or May 6, 2015.

* The CAC appointed auditor has stated that the committee has no authority or mandate to change the rules embodied in the Ontario Municipal Elections Act or the Corporations Act.

* Citizens have the right to organize on the municipal level and collectively express their points of view by working to create change in the city’s administration.

* The following is an excerpt from an article written by Dennis Galon a spokesperson for Susan Watson.

On September 23, 2014, Dennis Galon wrote in the Mercury newspaper: “Judge in Urbacon case asserted who should be blamed.

“At trial, McCrae provided sworn testimony that contradicted his earlier testimony in discovery, causing (Justice) MacKenzie to dismiss McCrae’s testimony and accept Urbacon’s evidence. In other words, McCrae gave the judge no choice but to effectively disregard Guelph’s version of the facts.

“In short, McKenzie has clearly answered the blame question.

“Despite a detailed legal decision to the contrary, Mayor Karen Farbridge’s political opponents are inviting us to ignore the finger MacKenzie has pointed at McCrae and lust instead for blood higher up the scale.

“We all know that Guelph is wiser than that. Let’s prove it by re-electing our equally wise mayor on Oct. 27. (For the purpose of disclosure, I’m among those who have made a donation to support the mayor’s re-election campaign.)

“Whatever, since none of it (of the blame) is to be borne by Ms Farbridge, then why not show the books?”

* This excerpt of Galon’s published comments clearly illustrates the partisan attempt by supporters of the defeated mayor Karen Farbridge, to discredit and trample the rights of all citizens. Public funds have been used to intimidate citizens not to assemble and organize in municipal elections for fear of retaliation and litigation. This includes the right to reject an administration that recklessly mismanaged public funds.

* In our opinion, Mr. Molson has accurately reported the facts. He recognized that this was an attempt to have a municipally appointed lay committee determine the alleged illegality of third party involvement at the municipal level.

* In our opinion, Ms. Watson should bear the costs of this audit in its entirety including the expenses incurred by Mr. Tolhurst who was victimized by Watson’s complaint to the CAC.

* The outcome of this is clear. The electors in October 2014 voted to change the administration of the city by defeating the incumbent mayor and four of her council supporters who were either defeated or quit politics.

* In our opinion, the city clerk, Stephen O’Brien overstepped his authority in a published article in the Guelph Mercury, September 2, stating that Ms. Watson would not be held accountable for the costs of the audit. We believe the September 10th CAC meeting has been unduly influenced by the statements of Mr. O’Brien.

* We now learn that Susan Watson has sought advice from Toronto lawyer, Eric Gillespie. He has stated in the press that despite the findings of Mr. Molson, there is a ”loophole” in the Ontario Municipal Elections Act that will cause this case to be conducted in the courts. He predicted the process would take a long time.

* GRG and a majority of Guelph citizens would expect the CAC to disregard any attempt to stall responsibility for which Ms. Watson should be held accountable for the inappropriate use of public funds.

Thank you allowing GRG to participate in this important meeting.

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The escalating cost of Susan Watson’s election complaint, creates growing doubt about its validity

Posted May 25, 2015

The cracks are appearing in the Susan Watson complaint that former candidate Glen Tolhurst broke the campaign finance rules by accepting a donation from the citizen’s activist group, GrassRoots Guelph.

City Clerk Stephen O’Brien is reported to be dismayed over the turn of events, particularly the Compliance Audit Committee’s (CAC) order to conduct an audit of Mr. Tolhurst’s election financial return.

On May 6, two members of CAC, Glen Greer and George Gorringe, both appointed by the Farbridge administration in July 2014, voted to order the audit after only ten minutes of deliberation. The third member of the committee, Lyndsay Monk who was elected chairman, April 23, did not appear.

On May 20, the CAC met to approve hiring the auditor. The city procurement department presented four bids and recommended accepting the lowest bid from William Molson, a Toronto Chartered Accountant. His bid of $7,500 plus $500 for each meeting was less than half of each of the three remaining bids.

CAC member Glen Greer objected to accepting the Molson bid on the grounds that he had acted on only one case involving an election complaint in the Town of Pickering in 2011. He said the third highest bid of $16,000 plus $1,000 per meeting would be more suitable as the company has represented municipalities on six different occasions. His argued that this bidder had more experience in handling election financial complaint cases. Mr. Greer apparently had done his homework.

When the vote was held to accept the Molson bid, Mr. Greer voted no.

During the same meeting, fellow member George Gorringe stated: “An electorate may apply for a compliance audit where they believe (and he emphasized believe) a candidate has contravened the provisions of the act relating to election campaign finances, in my mind had the onus been slightly greater, I’m not sure I would have supported the application.” Well, he did, regardless.

Back tracking, the CAC chair was not at the May 6 meeting when Gorringe and Greer voted to conduct an audit. That, in itself, is questionable procedure, Then it was revealed that chairman Monk at the May 20th meeting had advised her fellow CAC members at the May 6 meeting, to order the audit despite being absent.

While this is confusing, it appears that the two CAC members who ordered the audit may now have second thoughts, but are committed to the audit.

Plainly Watson supporter, Dennis Golon’s published statements are not aimed at Mr. Tolhurst but challenge the status of GrassRoots Guelph and its right to donate money to Mr. Tolhurst.

So, it is now crystal clear that Susan Watson and her NDP supporters are using taxpayer money to back door their determination to destroy GRG and its rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedom, guarantees the right of people to assemble and object to political actions.

The problem they have is that GRG did not run for office. Their charges, well documented by Galon, are in the wrong arena. To expect an unelected compliance committee to judge the merits of their arguments and pass it on to an auditor for confirmation is an egregious attempt to manipulate the Ontario Municipal Elections Act and the City of Guelph elections bylaw.

The construct of GRG was carefully crafted to allow people to express their beliefs through information and facts. It was formed under the Ontario Corporations Act and its letters patent laid out the purpose of the corporation. It was no secret of the purpose of GRG despite the attacks by the Watson NDP supporters that it operated in anonymity.

For Watson spokesman, Dennis Galon, to state GRG is not a business is silly. It is legally incorporated as a non-profit, non-partisan organization. During the election campaign, It had an address, volunteer staff, entered contracts with suppliers, a website with public access, and offered citizens a venue to support its stated values. If that’s not a business then I’m Warren Buffet.

Despite what the auditor’s report may state, it had better be detailed to the extent that it will hold up in a court of law. Because that will be the next step if the auditor rules GRG is not in compliance.

Citizens of Guelph should not have to be exposed to this attempt to make a legitimate citizens’ voice of the people be held accountable for something GRG acted upon, legally, in the 2014 municipal election.

The people’s assets should not be used for the redemption of a Mayor, who failed to financially manage the people’s treasure for eight years. She lost, get over it and move on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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