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.