Tag Archives: George Gorringe

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 Farbridge friend, Susan Watson, a bully or just a sore loser?

Posted May 19, 2015

The cost to the public treasure of the Susan Watson charade that attacked an innocent candidate because he accepted money from GrassRoots Guelph is mounting daily.

Ms. Watson denies her target is defeated candidate Glen Tolhurst but is to achieve “clarity” of the role of third parties in civic elections. So she chooses to use public money to assert that belief, using Glen Tolhurst as the conduit. Her complaint was supported by the following players:

* A council appointed Compliance Audit Committee (CAC) consisting of three citizens, two of whom are not lawyers or accountants. The newly elected chair, Lyndsay Monk, is a Chartered Accountant but did not participate in the May 6 meeting when her colleagues voted to order an audit of Mr. Tolhurst’s election financial report.

* On April 23, City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien retained Toronto lawyer Jody Johnson to inform the CAC of its responsibilities. She is described as a “subject matter expert”. Indeed, she may be having delivered a presentation in November 2014 to the fall meeting of the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario. Was Mr. O’Brien at that meeting?

Her subject was “Dealing with frivolous and vexatious complaints.”

The next question is, what did she advise the CAC on April 23? There is no record in the minutes of that meeting to reveal what this expert said or advised. It is important to note that Watson supporter, Dennis Galon, was at that meeting and was described by O’Brien as a member of the public. So he heard what Ms. Johnson told the CAC.

* Galon was the only “member of the public” at this meeting ostensibly held to elect a chairman of CAC. Lyndsay Monk was elected but didn’t turn up for the May 6 meeting when the audit was ordered. Did the other two members of the CAC know April 23, that the chairman would not attend the May 6 meeting?

Already Watson’s complaint is resonating with citizens who are wondering about her real motives. Meanwhile the bill for this complaint is being run up and the citizens are paying for it.

On May 6, the CAC heard presentations from Watson’s lawyer, Ian Flett, Dennis Galon and a former candidate supporter of defeated mayor Karen Farbridge. Why did one registered delegate, a defeated council candidate, receive a donation from the ETFO union and failed to appear? Representing Mr. Tolhurst was Guelph lawyer, David Starr.

Glen Greer, George Gorringe of the CAC presided over the meeting and it took them just ten minutes  after the arguments to order an audit of Mr. Tolhurst’s financial elections report. It was significantly unusual to have one CAC member move a motion to order an audit and the other seconding the motion.

All in favour? Carried.

It was initially reported that the audit could cost between $25,000 and $30,000. That changed May 18 when the city retained William Molson, a chartered accountant from Toronto, to conduct the audit. This is to be ratified at the May 20 meeting of the CAC.

Why Mr. Molson, you may ask. His was the lowest bid of four for the audit that ranged in price from Molson’s bid of $7,500 plus $500 per meeting, to Deloitte LLP bidding $19,750 plus $2,000 a meeting. What were the specifications of that tender? Did mr. O’Brien know Mr. Molson before the the tendering process?

It appears that with lightning speed the city followed the tendering process in less than two weeks. It has to be a world record considering the history of opaque tendering for city work by the previous administration.

Mr. Molson, according to research, has conducted one election campaign audit. It involved the Town of Pickering and was conducted in 2011.

Here we have a rush to judgment, orchestrated by the city clerk. It is based on much hearsay evidence, administered and considered by non-elected officials and experts.

It is a travesty that according to the rules any citizen can complain about election finances to satisfy a personal vendetta toward any group of activist citizens who are opposed to what the target stands for.

Watson’s actions will have the effect, win or lose, of deterring citizens to participate in elections and, more important, discouraging good people to run for office. The fear of reprisal for the most specious of reasons can turn this great city into a municipal conspiratorial quagmire. That is, if it hasn’t already.

This case will be turned over to an accountant who is not empowered to solve Watson’s Don Quixote quest to “clarify” the so-called third party issue as it pertains to the Ontario Municipal Elections Act.

By the time the audit result is announced, this is going to be a very expensive personal vanity exercise and the costs should be borne by the complainant. Only council can order Watson to pay the costs if it is found there is no merit to her complaint. It will be interesting to see how her council friends will vote if that decision must be made.

Perhaps Mr. Tolhurst should consider legal action for intentional infliction of suffering by Watson. There is no doubt he is the victim here. He acted with honesty and regardless, he was defeated.

So the Watson solution is to use public money, estimated to eventually cost more than $10,000, to pay for an audit of Mr. Tolhurst’s election finances of less than $4,000.

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The real victim in this election complaint by Susan Watson is the truth

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.

More questions.

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.

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