Springwater compliance audit committee appoints prosecutor
By Kate Harries AWARE News Network
Members of the Springwater compliance audit committee have appointed an ”independent prosecutor” to review whether to proceed with election-expense related charges against Mayor Bill French.
Citing a provision of the Municipal Elections Act, committee members met behind closed doors with their Toronto lawyer, emerging after 75 minutes to announced their choice: Tony E. Fleming of the firm Cunningham, Swan, Carty, Little & Bonham LLP. No further details were provided.
Committee members appeared relaxed, joking and laughing quietly among themselves prior to the start of the two short public portions of the meeting that added up to less than five minutes. Five members of the public were in attendance, including French. Also present were the committee’s lawyer, Jody Johnson, and township clerk Renee Chaperon.
As the meeting ended, this reporter asked for clarification on what aspects of committee’s deliberations would not be conducted behind closed doors and would be open to scrutiny by taxpayers.
“The committee closed session pursuant to the municipal act is secure confidential solicitor-client information. That information is closed and not open to taxpayers. Thank you,” Chair Robert Barlow replied .
“Okay, how many choices did you have?” I asked, looking for insight into the process that resulted in Fleming’s selection.
Barlow ignored the second question. “Motion to adjourn. Seconder? All in favour? The committee is now adjourned.”
“I did have further questions,” I told him.
“Sorry?” he said.
“I did have further questions.”
“Thank you,” he said.
Barlow and the other committee members, Colin McLarty and George Wodoslawsky, rose and filed out of the Springwater council chambers.
After the meeting, French said he was surprised that no part of the discussion was conducted in open session. “I can certainly accept the fact that if there’s something privileged from the solicitor’s standpoint, that’s the intent of the closed session,” French said. “My expectation would have been that they take the guidance, come out, and then discuss whoever is proposed and the reason why they selected that particular prosecutor for this particular case.”
Sandy Agnew of AWARE Simcoe, one of those in attendance, said in an email that he felt “the rude behavior by Chair Barlow to questions posed by Kate Harries indicates that the committee does not welcome public scrutiny.”
However, Agnew added, “they seem to be quite alright spending unlimited amounts of public money prosecuting Bill French for minor discrepancies that are well within his campaign limits.”
Fleming is a Kingston lawyer with experience in municipal and environmental law.
These are some of the questions that, in a more transparent process, might have been addressed, either during the course of pubic deliberations by committee members, or in response to questions at the conclusion of their meeting:
– What was the process for finding a prosecutor?
– How did the committee reach out to find qualified candidates?
– How many applied?
– Was there a list, and / or a short list?
– How many were listed?
– What were the criteria for selection?
– Was there any discussion of the cost to taxpayers?
– Was there any budgetary allocation by the committee?
Lawyer Johnson refused comment, as is her custom. Clerk Chaperon asked for questions to be sent to her by email.
She responded a day later by email. “I am only able to provide you with the prosecutor’s name and firm,” she wrote. “The remainder of the materials are not available as the committee met in camera, in a meeting that was closed to the public to receive advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege.”
A second audit of French’s 2014 campaign expenses recently identified around $1,100 in undeclared expenses, less than was found in a previous audit that the committee rejected in 2016. French’s expenses totalled around $15,000, well under the spending limit of over $20,000.
A complaint in 2015 by former deputy mayor Dan McLean launched the committee’s review. The cost to the township so far has been in excess of $200,000.
French will be seeking re-election in the October 2018 municipal election. Deputy Mayor Don Allen is also running for mayor.
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