Compliance Audit Update – It Gets Crazier by the Day
By Bill French Springwater News
I am totally flabbergasted at how a simple request for an Election Compliance Audit of my 2014 Election Expenses has taken on a life of its own and is now out of control. I understand people being vindictive and petty minded, but this is beyond comprehension.
I have decided with advice from my solicitor Renatta Austin that I will not participate in a second audit of my 2014 election campaign finances without an order from a court directing me to do so.
When my solicitor informed the Township Clerk and copied the new forensic audit firm of my decision not to participate, I received an email from the new audit firm threatening a summons to appear before them if I did not agree to participate. They confirmed in the email that the Compliance Audit Committee has approved the cost of their legal representation to chase me. With no other options before me and based on the advice of my solicitor, I have launched an application to the Divisional Court to deal with the matter and challenge what has been done.
For those that may not be aware of this sad and expensive saga, here it is.
At its meeting on July 20, 2015, the Compliance Audit Committee in a 2 to 1 decision accepted the application of Dan McLean, defeated Deputy Mayor in the 2014 municipal election, to review my 2014 election campaign finances and subsequently appointed Grant Thornton LLP to conduct the audit. I acknowledged my intention to cooperate with the audit in an engagement letter from Grant Thornton to the Township of Springwater dated September 2, 2015, and I fully cooperated with the auditor and provided access to everything they requested. The auditor reported to the Committee on September 25, 2015.
Grant Thornton LLP was selected by the Compliance Audit Committee and is a well-qualified firm and when questioned by my solicitor on Oct 23rd confirmed they have conducted other Compliance Audits. This was not a new exercise or area of expertise for them. Their audit was complete and aside from some compliance issues that were noted in the Grant Thornton Audit Report, it mirrored the audit that had been conducted by Smith Lassaline from Barrie. Even with the variances my election expenditures were still about $5,000 under the spending limit.
The Committee was required to consider the auditor’s report within 30 days of receiving it and to make a decision to either commence legal proceedings against me if the report concluded that there were apparent contraventions of the Act, or to make a finding as to whether there were reasonable grounds for the application if no contraventions were found. According to my legal opinion, the Committee had no authority to reject the auditor’s report and request a new audit.
My solicitor also informs me that the Committee’s decision to adjourn the proceedings on October 23rd was beyond the authority granted to it under section 81 of the Municipal Elections Act. Its decision to reject an audit that was favourable to me and to appoint a second auditor without any authority to do so is tantamount to audit shopping and it is contrary to the basic rules of natural justice and procedural fairness. As is reflected in the recording of the proceedings on October 23rd, through my lawyer, I objected to the adjournment on these grounds.
The Committee has now exceeded its 30-day time limit to consider the auditor’s report and to make a decision. I will not participate in any further audits or Committee meetings with respect to my 2014 election campaign finances without direction from a court. In the absence of a court order, I will consider the matter closed.
It was confirmed by the Clerk at a recent Council meeting that the Grant Thornton audit was $13,000. I estimate the cost of a second audit to be double that since it is now a forensic audit, plus legal fees. Just for the record I am responsible to pay my own legal fees and they are mounting and now into the 5 figures. Don’t be surprised if this circus will go into the stratosphere in dollars spent by the time it is over. I hope someone files a Freedom of Information Request to find out how much money was spent by the Township to simply embarrass and harass the Mayor you elected. As the saying goes, it may be worthwhile to “follow the money”.
In closing, I publicly offer the following resolution to this mess. I ask that the Compliance Audit Committee do the honourable thing. I ask that they reconvene the meeting of Oct 23, accept the audit report from Grant Thornton (which was completed according to the letter of engagement) and then pass a motion to take no further action. That would end this unfortunate situation and stop the mounting and unnecessary legal costs for both the Township and me. I, for my part, will agree to take no action against the Township as I would prefer to focus on the job that you elected me to do. It is a sensible solution to stop the merry-go-round.
Bill French is the mayor of Springwater