Dramatic revelations as Springwater committee appoints new auditor
Compliance audit committee members Colin McLarty, George Wodoslawsky and Robert Barlow leave the township administration centre after meeting in January. -AWARE Simcoe photo
French, McLean, township ready to settle in July 2017, but committee refused, mayor says
By Kate Harries AWARE News Network
The Springwater compliance audit committee met on Tuesday February 27, heard from the man whose 2014 campaign is at issue, and voted to appoint a new auditor to look into his election expenses.
The 2-0 vote (chair Robert Barlow was absent) came immediately after Mayor Bill French had urged the committee not to order a second audit, but to take “a bold move because of the time and expense of all parties, and make a decision to end this matter today.”
In fact, but for the committee’s refusal, the matter could have been resolved at a much lower cost last July, French revealed in his 10-minute address.
All other parties had been in agreement following a process overseen by Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco, in a bid to staunch the escalating expenses to the parties and the taxpayers, he said.
Only the committee stood in the way, French said, rejecting a solution that had been accepted by former deputy mayor Dan McLean, who launched the complaint and was represented by prominent Toronto lawyer Jack Siegel, as well as by French and the township.
“Is it reasonable to spend over $200,000 of township money defending your decision?” French asked the two committee members.
“Justice Kiteley expressed concern about escalating costs over a year ago in January 2017. Is it reasonable that you as a committee have an unlimited budget, roughly 10 times that of Mr. McLean or I, and we have limited and finite resources?
“How is the committee being reasonable or fair to Mr. Mclean, me or the taxpayers of the township of Springwater?”
In another startling revelation, French said he had challenged then township clerk John Daly in July 2015 with regard to Colin McLarty’s presence on the committee.
“I was in receipt of an email showing that Mr. McLarty distributed Mr. McLean’s election video to at least one local resident during the 2014 campaign which, if nothing else, could be perceived as having some bias for the applicant.”
(The 2014 bylaw appointing the joint Oro-Medonte-Springwater compliance audit committee states that “to avoid any potential conflict of interest, committee members shall not offer their services to any municipal election candidates.”)
A complicating factor, French said, is that another committee member (George Wodoslawsky) missed crucial meetings in 2017. “I do question whether the committee’s decisions at those closed session meetings were fair and without bias,” he said.
French concluded his remarks and invited questions.
Wodoslawsky, in the chair, and McLarty, the remaining member, sat silent. A dozen people watched from the floor of the council chamber.
Wodoslawsky and McLarty had no questions for French. No comment on the narrative that casts committee members as the only ones clinging to a tortuous process involving ever more expense to taxpayers. No explanation for Barlow’s absence. No advice sought from their Toronto lawyer, Jody Johnson, also sitting silent, to one side.
The committee did not deliberate the “bold move” suggested by French.
Instead, McLarty moved promptly to appoint Glen Davison to conduct a second audit of French’s campaign expenses.
In a flash, Wodoslawsky seconded the motion.
Without debate, Wodoslawsky and McLarty voted in favour.
Then the two adjourned their meeting, 15 minutes after it had started. They and their lawyer refused to answer questions from this reporter.
The selection of Davison is the result of a tendering process that took place in October 2015, township clerk Renee Chaperon advised in an email. Two submissions were received and Froese Forensic Partners was selected at that time. Davison, an Etobicoke chartered accountant, will be conducting the audit on behalf of Froese.
The first audit, completed in September 2016, by Melanie Dugard of Grant Thornton, was rejected by the committee. It cost the township $12,860.
As of December 31, 2017, Johnson, the committee’s lawyer, has been paid $112,411 by the township.
Dugard’s audit of French’s expenses found five instances of apparent non-compliance with the Municipal Elections Act totaling $1,175. The addition of those expenses to the $15,300 reported by French did not put him above the $20,000 spending limit for his campaign.
Kate Harries is a member of the board of AWARE Simcoe, which endorsed French’s candidacy for mayor in 2014. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.