Former mayor addresses Springwater Council on compliance audit

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MIDHURST – May 2 2019 – Springwater failed to explore options to control runaway costs incurred by its compliance audit committee, former mayor Bill French told Township  Council yesterday. 

Ten charges relating to French’s 2014 election expenses were withdrawn April 17. The  alleged non-compliances, totalling $1,100, were described by the prosecutor in an April 25 report to council as of a  ‘relatively minor nature.”  French was $5,000 under his legal spending limit. The cost to the township has been $310,000 so far.

French rejected earlier statements made by Mayor Don Allen and CAO Robert Brindley that the township was unable to control the committee’s expenses.

He noted that, during the protracted committee process, two judges expressed concern at the escalating costs and suggested options for the township.

“I believe a court would have taken seriously concerns expressed by the township regarding the cost to ratepayers and may have ordered a reasonable resolution that would have been fair to all parties,” French said.

 He also refuted a claim by Brindley that he was responsible for delays and therefore most of the costs incurred by the township. “The actions of others delayed proceedings from March of 2016 to December 2017 or 20 months,” he said.

French noted that while in office – he was defeated last October – he was prohibited by the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act from any discussion with his council colleagues on the matter and so this was the first time he was able to share his views. 

Text of Bill French delegation to Springwater Council – May 1 2019 

Mayor Allen, Members of Council. Thank you for allowing me to address you this evening. ……..First, some significant milestones as noted on the slide:

January of 2017; Madam Justice Frances Kiteley noted that the Compliance Audit matter was developing a life of its own and advised the parties to conference with Assistant Chief Justice Frank Marrocco and seek a less expensive and early resolution in May of that year.

January of 2018; Madam Justice Ann Molloy, on behalf of the tribunal, noted in her decision, that the Compliance Audit Committee misunderstood its role and that the Township might intervene if the costs were excessive. 

April 17th2019; all charges against me were withdrawn by the prosecutor.

This is the first time I have addressed Springwater Council on my compliance audit matter because, as Mayor during the last term, I recused myself from any meetings or discussion on my Compliance Audit as required under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. On those occasions I passed the chair to a member of Council.

I only come forward because my situation was discussed in open Council in an Update at the April 3 Council meeting when it was still an active legal matter. Prior to that, my Compliance Audit had only been discussed in Closed session – as it was a legal matter. Whether intended or not, I consider aspects of the update to have been an attack on my character, reputation and integrity, and as such, I must respond. Council is already in possession of my lawyer Phil Horgan’s comments on the update.

The issue I have with the update was the proposition that FIRST, – I was responsible for most of the over $310,000 of Township costs and SECONDLY, – that the Township could do nothing to curb the spending. I disagree.

I launched a Judicial Review Application in November 2015 challenging the decision of the Compliance Audit Committee’s failure to take action on the Grant Thornton Auditor Report in the 30 day time frame under the Act and also the unprecedented appointment of a second audit.  There is no other case in the history of compliance audits where the first audit has been discarded and another one commissioned. We also now know there was no significant difference between the findings of the two audits as both noted minor discrepancies, but still $5,000 under the spending limit.

We expected my JR to be heard in June or July of 2016, rather than 18 months later in December of 2017. Lawyer Harold Elston, acting for the Township, fully supported my application and concurred with my lawyer Renatta Austin, that the Compliance Audit Committee had exceeded its jurisdiction. 

So, if I did not cause the significant delays what happened? 

Dan McLean, through his lawyer Mr. Jack Siegel, launched a separate Judicial Review to challenge the original appointment of Grant Thornton, but Mr McLean did not file his Notice until July of 2016. That application became a moot point after the Superior Court decision in January 2017. Madam Justice Frances Kiteley supported Grant Thornton’s motion to dismiss the application, upholding that the Committee, not Grant Thornton, were the decision makers on whether charges should be laid. 

Madam Kiteley’s order to dismiss Mr. McLean’s appeal of the motion was supported by both the Township and myself, but was opposed by the Compliance Audit Committee. 

Justice Kiteley expressed concern that this matter was costing everyone a lot of money and that the parties should consider some alternate course of action. In her decision she wrote and I quote, “All of this is unfolding at considerable expense to the parties and to the ratepayers. I encourage all counsel and the parties to consider whether a judicial settlement conference with A.C.J. (Assistant Chief Justice) Marrocco (who has agreed to make himself available for that purpose) might lead to an earlier and less expensive resolution.” 

Under the auspices of Justice Marrocco, a settlement conference was held in May 2017 with all the parties present. Justice Marrocco proposed an early resolution, which was acceptable to Mr. McLean and I, but lacked full consensus. 

In the decision of my JR, Justice Ann Molloy,- speaking for the tribunal, – noted in her decision -that the Compliance Audit Committee misunderstood their role and I quote, “A Tribunal ought not to compromise its neutrality and impartiality – by taking an active position to one or more of the parties that appeared before it”.

If the Compliance Audit Committee had not directed their lawyerto argue againstin both the Grant Thornton case and at my JR – or – if they had agreed to the course of action proposed by Justice Marrocco back in May 2017 – how much money and time might have been saved by the Township? 

The update on April 3 failed to provide this information, which cast me in an unfavourable light. The update was anything but evenhanded. As noted on the slide, the actions of others, – not me, – delayed proceedings 20 months.

The update stated that this Council and Administration could do nothing to stop the increasing costs, so you must also be saying, that if the costs had escalated to a million dollars, there was nothing you could have done? Does that make any sense?

The Township might have applied for its own Judicial Review when the Compliance Audit Committee exceeded its mandate in Oct 2015. I believe a court would have taken seriously – concerns expressed by the township regarding the cost to ratepayers, and may have ordered a resolution that would have been fair to all parties.

That was certainly indicated by Justice Molloy in her decision, which was referenced in the update. In the same sentence that was noted in your update, Justice Molloy stated an exception, and I will quote, “unless there was some issue such as excessive spending by the Committee that might have been of direct interest to the Township.” Do you not think $310,000 is excessive and a direct interest to the Township?That probably would have paid for most of the road construction that Mr. Spring just noted in his delegation. Since 20 of the 24 months of delays were created by other parties,- I also suggest that most of the $200,000 in extra legal costs,- noted in the update, – were caused by other parties, not me.

Since my personal matter was brought into this chamber, in an open – rather, than closed session, I ask Council to acknowledge that the update provided on April 3 lacked balance and that my position be given equal weight in any future communications on this matter. I would also ask that the letter from Phil Horgan in response to the update, be posted as Correspondence at the earliest convenience. 

It may be appropriate for the Township to also support our petition on to ask the province to “End misuse of the Municipal Elections Act” which to date has garnered almost a 1,000 signatures.  Thank You for listening and I invite questions.

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