McLean vs French: audit committee costs close to $200,000
Springwater compliance audit committee members Colin McLarty, George Wodoslawsky and Robert Barlow leave the township administration centre after meeting last month. AWARE Simcoe photo
By Kate Harries AWARE News Network
The cost to taxpayers of a committee investigation of the election campaign expenses of Springwater Mayor Bill French comes close $200,000, a summary obtained under Freedom of Information legislation reveals.
There’s more to come, as the committee gears up for a second audit of French’s expenses, two and a half years after Dan McLean, the defeated deputy mayoralty candidate in the 2014 election, applied for a review of French’s expenses.
The compliance audit committee’s minutes show that one member, George Wodoslawsky, was absent for half of the meetings in the last two years. He did not attend four out of six crucial meetings in 2017, when judicial review applications by McLean and French were the only topic on the agenda.
That means that the burden of this costly decision-making was left to just two men: the chair, Robert Barlow, and a third member, Colin McLarty.
So far, $112,411 has been paid by the township to the lawyer retained by the committee, Jody Johnson, of the Toronto firm Aird Baylis. Johnson attended all of the 12 meetings the committee held in 2016-2017.
Another $78,812, has been paid to Howard Elston, the lawyer acting for the township, bringing Springwater’s legal costs in this matter to a total of $191,223..
The audit itself, carried out in September 2015 by Melanie Dugard of the firm Grant Thornton, cost $12,860. The committee refused to consider it
Expenses for the committee members over the past two and half years total $3,360 in remuneration, and $1,228 in mileage.
The total comes to $208, 671, according to figures released by the township.
However, in January 2017, Madam Justice Frances Kiteley found against part of McLean’s judicial review application, a claim against Grant Thornton, and awarded costs of $15,000. The award was paid to the township, which was contractually obligated to defend the firm, and had Elston acting on its behalf.
Minus the costs award, the grand total in compliance audit costs paid by the township so far comes to $193, 671.
That does not include monies that the two men have paid their own legal advisors. McLean has hired prominent Toronto lawyer Jack Siegel, who charged $600 an hour in a recent case involving Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey; French’s lawyer Renatta Austin has a practice oriented to providing access to justice.
And, both men have incurred court costs. McLean’s $15,000 (plus $1,500 to French) in the Grant Thornton matter, and last month, a judicial review panel ordered French to pay McLean $15,000.
These figures are in stark contrast to the amounts in contention: French declared expenditures that came in $5,000 under his $20,000-odd limit, and the first audit identified $1,175 in apparent non-compliances.
The compliance audit committee was jointly appointed in July 2014 by Oro-Medonte and Springwater councils, then headed by Harry Hughes (acclaimed in October 2014) and Linda Collins (defeated by French).
Its members are Barlow, an Orillia lawyer and Q.C.; Wodoslawsky, a management consultant and chair of the Oro-Medonte Chamber of Commerce; and McLarty, CPA, CMA, also a management consultant.
The expense issue was a matter of concern for the courts a year ago, when Justice Kiteley noted the cost to taxpayers and urged all the parties to consider a judicial settlement conference with Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco. French was willing to compromise, his lawyer told a judicial review panel December 18 2017. Lawyers won’t say what happened as settlement discussions are secret, but the answer may lie with Barlow and McLarty, along with their adviser Johnson.
Wodoslawsky was present at the committee’s most recent meeting on Thursday January 25 2018. He, Barlow and McLarty met with Johnson behind closed doors in Springwater council chambers, excluding the public for all but a few minutes, coming out of in-camera only to adjourn. They refused to answer questions or provide comment on where matters stand.
But as no motion was passed in open session, it seems the committee has yet to make a decision on the second audit of French’s expenses. It has another meeting set for 9-10 am, February 27 2018 at the Springwater administration centre.
Johnson was hired after Siegel, acting for McLean, demanded that township lawyer Elston be removed as the committee’s counsel.
In a November 18 2015 letter to then township clerk John Daly, Siegel noted that French was challenging the committee’s decision and insisted on the need for the committee to have its own lawyer.
“I would put it to both the committee, and to yourself, Mr. Daly, that the committee must have access to its own legal representation, retained by it, and not the township, and further, that the township is obliged to provide all necessary funding,” Siegel wrote, adding that he intended to take legal action if Elston continued to act for the committee.
This followed an October, 2015 refusal by the committee to accept an audit completed by Melanie Dugard of Grant Thornton, a firm it had retained following a public hearing in July, 2015.
French applied for a judicial review of the committee’s refusal, citing unreasonableness and lack of jurisdiction. In a decision released last month, Madam Justice Anne Molloy, writing on behalf of a three-judge panel, ruled against him.
The Grant Thornton audit carried out by Dugard found five instances of apparent non-compliance with the Municipal Elections Act that Molloy summed up as “two instances of irregularities that affected nothing of substance, and three expenses not reported, which totalled $1,175 plus HST. The addition of those expenses did not put Mr. French above the spending limit for his campaign.”
The expenses in question were:
-Ten hours of website maintenance worth an estimated $500 were not included on Form 4.
-A web hosting expense of $300 was not recorded on Form 4.
-300 H-stakes were loaned to the campaign. Their replacement value of $375 was not recorded on Form 4.
French reported expenses of $15,298.75. His campaign spending limit was $20,363.90. In a written submission to the committee in October 2015, French acknowledged inadvertent error in three instances identified by the audit, and disputed the findings in relation to the web hosting and the H-stakes.