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Canada's top-paid mayor broke spending rules

TORONTO - Police should investigate audit findings that the mayor of Brampton, Ont., reportedly Canada's highest-paid municipal politician, broke expense rules more than 250 times, including on business-class flights, premium hotel rooms and cellphone IQ quizzes, the city's council voted Wednesday.

The audit of several years worth of expenses by Mayor Susan Fennell turned up $172,608 in spending that breached city policies, although $41,027 was repaid.

A further $156,000 of expenses may have broken rules but auditors did not have enough information to make a determination.

Council voted to send the audit to outside police force rather than to Peel Regional Police, the local force in the community northwest of Toronto.

In an earlier statement, Fennell said she accepts much, but not all, of what the audit found.

"I accept responsibility for all that I do as mayor of Brampton, positive and less positive," said in the statement Tuesday.

"If there are changes that need to be made, I will make them. And I will work with my colleagues on council to ensure that they, too, accept responsibility for their shortcomings."

Among the Deloitte audit findings, Fennell racked up $220 in cellphone charges for 44 IQ quizzes. The mayor told the auditors the wireless company would credit her account for the quizzes.

Brampton is Canada's ninth largest city but Fennell, who was paid about $232,000 last year, earned more than any other civic politician in the country, according to documents obtained by the Toronto Star.

She is the latest in a series of Canadian big-city mayors to find themselves in hot water in recent years.

In Montreal, Gerald Tremblay resigned following damning testimony at Quebec's corruption inquiry and the mayor who replaced him, Michael Applebaum, was arrested last year on corruption charges. In Laval, Que., longtime mayor Gilles Vaillancourt stepped down and was charged months later with corruption-related offences. His replacement, Alexandre Duplessis, stepped down after a controversy allegedly involving extortion and a prostitute.

And then there is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford whose admissions of smoking crack cocaine and buying illegal drugs while in office made headlines around the world.

The Brampton audit found several expenses of concern related to flight passes used for travel to Federation of Canadian Municipalities meetings. The cost exceeded the economy-class fare paid by councillors flying to the same meetings.

The auditors found several instances in which an average trip using a flight pass cost more than $1,000 above the average price of a single ticket. The audit also found $4,685.68 in expired flight-pass credits.

Fennell, who is running for re-election in the Oct. 27 municipal election, said flight passes represented the best fare for their travel requirements, and provided flexibility with cancellations and schedule changes.

The mayor also flew business class to London, where Brampton was a finalist in the World Leadership Awards for Town Planning in 2007, at a cost of $3,950.37. She said the travel was approved but offered no supporting documentation.

During two Federation of Canadian Municipalities meetings in 2009, Fennell stayed in premium hotel rooms that cost more than city-approved rates, the audit found. At one meeting, she stayed in a $509-per-night room at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler during the federation annual conference. An employee in another room paid $299.

Auditors also noted several large cellphone bills — as high as $1,156 per month — due to international calls, roaming and data charges that might have been avoided by, for example, using international calling packages.

The audit identified a further $155,952 in expenses that may have violated city rules but the auditors did not have enough information.

For example, the mayor's office pays $45,000 per year for an on-call limousine service but there were no reports on how often the service was used or for what purpose, so the auditors could not say if the use complied with city policy.

The mayor also flew to North Bay, Ont., for $866 for the funeral of an employee's father-in-law, which the auditors deemed "questionable."

The auditors did clear Fennell in several other instances.

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