Punishment, via a 7-3 vote, follows her code of conduct breach and seeks reimbursement for undocumented use of a limo service, to be taken from her $323,000 severance package.
By: San Grewal Urban Affairs Reporter, Published on Wed Nov 12 2014
In a move to “protect Brampton taxpayers,” city council has handed outgoing Mayor Susan Fennell the maximum penalty under law, stripping her of 90 days’ pay and ordering her to pay back $144,150 related to an expense scandal that dominated her final year in office.
The punishment was delivered in a 7-3 vote Wednesday. Fennell was absent from the meeting due to what she has described as urgent spinal surgery.
The vote followed a city integrity commissioner’s finding in September that she had breached the code of conduct by “knowingly” violating the city’s travel expense policies.
Under the Municipal Act, the maximum penalty council can levy for code breaches is 90 days’ pay. The $144,150 Fennell has been ordered to pay back relates to the cost of an on-call limousine service.
A forensic audit released in August by Deloitte Canada, which found numerous violations of spending rules by Fennell and her staff, said she was not able to provide enough information to show the limo service had actually been used for city business.
Wednesday’s motion gives Fennell the opportunity to get the $144,150 back if she can provide proof the car was used as intended.
“I’m sick and tired of people trying to protect the mayor,” Councillor Grant Gibson said, after Fennell’s three closest allies on council tried to defend her from further penalties.
“There will be considerable risk to the municipality,” Councillor Gael Miles warned council, suggesting Fennell would take legal action if the council resolution to punish her was passed.
People say “that I am an ally of Mayor Fennell. I am an ally of this community,” Miles said, saying her concern was to save taxpayers’ money in a potential legal battle.
That remark drew laughter in the sparsely filled council chamber, which had been two-thirds full before council went into a two-hour closed-door meeting to discuss the potential legal issues.
Councillor Elaine Moore called Miles’ reasoning a “lame excuse” for not seeking reimbursement from Fennell for the limo service.
“In the real world, if you don’t have documentation (for expenses) you don’t get the money back,” Moore said.
Staff clarified that the money and the 90 days’ loss of pay could be held back from the $323,000 severance package Fennell will receive on leaving council. (She will also get a retirement package of more than $50,000 for sitting on Peel Region council.)
The Deloitte forensic audit, which originally determined that Fennell and her staff had broken spending rules 266 times over seven years in cases where documents were available — totalling $172,608 — had recommended Fennell return $34,118. But on appeal to the audit’s dispute resolution arbitrator, that amount was lowered to just $3,522.97, to cover a business-class flight to London and a hotel suite at the Fairmont Whistler.
Lawyer David Shiller argued on behalf of his client, Fennell, before council on Wednesday, asking them to “put aside your strong political or personal animosity to the mayor.”
Shiller said she should be allowed to defend herself before being punished, and that the audit arbitrator had exonerated the mayor, finding that Deloitte and the integrity commissioner were wrong in their interpretation of the rules.
Integrity commissioner Robert Swayze, asked later by councillors to clarify his findings, told council that he stands behind his report.
Fennell lost her re-election bid in the Oct. 27 election, garnering just 12 per cent of the vote.
That brought her sympathy from retiring Councillor Sandra Hames, who said: “Mayor Fennell is not going to be coming back to council at all. Why are we trying to knock her down every which way we can?”
Like Miles, Councillor Paul Palleschi, who is also retiring, said Fennell would almost certainly sue the city if the punishment was passed.
But other councillors weren’t buying it.
Moore said that all Fennell has to do to avoid the $144,150 penalty is “produce the documents.”
Councillor John Hutton placed blame for the turmoil that has shaken the city squarely on Fennell’s shoulders.
“Our city was tarnished. The headlines kept getting bigger and bigger. She kept spreading the blame around, not accepting the blame herself.”
Mayor-elect Linda Jeffrey takes on the job of mayor Dec. 1.