Susan Fennell announces she has had it “with the lies the innuendo and the smears.”
Legal action threatened by Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell minutes ahead of this term’s last council meeting scuttled discussion of two reports that call for her to pay back $34,118 and could lead to her losing 90 days pay.
At a hastily called press conference at city hall Wednesday, Fennell announced that she would be taking legal action against the Toronto Star, Deloitte Canada, certain councillors and the city’s recently appointed integrity commissioner Robert Swayze.
The legal actions revolve around an audit that found she and her staff violated spending rules hundreds of times over the past seven years.
“I’ve had it up to here with the lies, the innuendo and the smears,” Fennell said Wednesday. Fennell left for council immediately after the announcement and refused to take any questions.
The audit also found councillors had violated spending rules.
A report from Deloitte tabled at Wednesday’s council meeting recommended that Fennell pay back $34,118 in misspent funds. But when the report was brought up for debate, chief administrative officer John Corbett advised against councillors discussing it without the city first seeking legal advice given Fennell’s announcement. Deloitte representatives had left the building because of the pending legal action, Corbett said.
“You bullied Deloitte to leave this building when we needed to ask questions,” Councillor John Sprovieri said to the mayor during council, as residents in the packed chamber yelled at Fennell: “Shame, shame.”
Councillors instead voted to schedule a special meeting next Wednesday where they plan to discuss the report from Deloitte as well as the integrity commissioner’s finding and any punishments that would arise from them. Three councillors told the Star Wednesday that they would demand Fennell also pay back approximately $156,000 in expenses. Of that, $144,150 was for three years worth of private limousine service for which Fennell did not provide auditors with documentation to show it was used for city business.
“Obviously this was a strategy they came up with. It just prolongs the agony — she can’t escape. She avoided the heat today, but she won’t avoid the justice that we’re going to demand next week,” Sprovieri, an outspoken critic of Fennell, told the Star.
David Shiller, the lawyer who has been retained by Fennell, would not specify which councillors or individuals the actions would focus on.
“When the action is started all will become public. My instructions are to get it done quickly,” said Shiller, who said he expects the first steps will be taken by the end of the week.
Neither the Star nor Swayze have been contacted by anyone representing Fennell in connection with her vowed legal action. Deloitte could not be reached.
“The basis is that Susan has endured a lot of false statements and innuendo over the last year and now she’s fighting back. The Deloitte report in my view contains a number of factual inaccuracies.
“It was unfair to her and a number of newspapers reported on it and reported what we say are factual inaccuracies,” he said.
Deloitte Canada, which recently conducted a forensic audit after a council resolution to investigate their own spending, found $328,600 in questionable spending by Fennell and her staff.
The audit said spending rules were broken 266 times totalling $172,000 and rules may have been breached another 79 times totalling $156,000 but Fennell did not provide enough documentation for auditors to make a determination.
Swayze’s report found Fennell “knowingly” violated spending rules and ruled she broke the city’s code of conduct.
The repayment report Wednesday also summarized the amounts to be paid back by councillors: Councillor Bob Callahan, $17,459; Vicky Dhillon, $447; Grant Gibson $2,374; Sandra Hames, $520; John Huston, $5,741; Gael Miles, $2,212; Elaine Moore, $701; Paul Palleschi, $145; John Sanderson, $1,613; John Sprovieri, $2,557. Council will have the final say on the amounts to be paid back.
Council members, including Fennell, have until September 30, 2014 to dispute the repayment figures.
“She wanted to fly first class, hang out in the first-class lounge and stay in the most expensive hotel rooms. The integrity commissioner didn’t buy her excuses and now she’s trying to bully him and Deloitte with legal action,” Sprovieri told the Star.
“We’re also going to be demanding that she receive the maximum penalty of 90 days loss of pay. She can’t escape that, even if she thinks that she can wait this term of council out, her severance pay would be garnished.”