Mayor Linda Jeffrey is so concerned with potential misconduct in the day-to-day work of Brampton city staff that she, with the unanimous backing of council, will ask the province to appoint its ombudsman to investigate the way the municipality does business.
Ms. Jeffrey has expressed a desire to invite André Marin to study Brampton's processes since she was elected last fall. She found new urgency for a provincial inquiry in the last week, after the release of a long-anticipated and controversial report by municipal lawyer George Rust-D'Eye on the way the city handled the awarding of a contract to a developer. Members of council and the public say the report was "white-washed."
Developer John Cutruzzola of Inzola Group launched a $28.5-million lawsuit against the city in 2011, claiming he had been unfairly shut out of the bidding process for a development project in downtown Brampton. When court documents alleged city staff may have behaved improperly in the procurement process, council hired Mr. Rust-D'Eye as interim auditor-general to investigate staff involvement. Last week, Mr. Rust-D'Eye absolved bureaucrats of any wrongdoing, saying Brampton was "well-served by its staff."
Ms. Jeffrey, meanwhile, described the work environment at city hall as "seriously toxic and dysfunctional."
"Frankly, I find it unfortunate that after almost eight months of investigation, there are no substantive recommendations from [Mr. Rust-D'Eye]," Ms. Jeffrey said in a packed-house council meeting Monday night.
Ms. Jeffrey said the only way to move forward was to ensure future procurements were based around clear understanding from council and the public on the process.
She said once given the green light from the province, Mr. Marin will be asked to focus on potential misconduct in procurement and real estate transactions, as well as planning approvals. The mayor also said she would like to start recording and storing records of in-camera and closed meetings.
"Transparency and accountability in government must be more than a commitment to better inform the public – it is a way of doing business that builds the public trust," she said.
For nearly three hours, members of council and residents directed scathing criticisms and pointed questions at Mr. Rust-D'Eye, whose investigation was projected to cost about $50,000 when he was hired last fall but whose fees rose to more than five times that amount.
"When appointing an auditor, why was an upper ceiling not set? Why was a time limit not set?" asked resident Anil Khanna, a point echoed by some councillors.
In response, Mr. Rust-D'Eye said he actually cut council a deal: he billed the city half of what he normally would.
"I have not wasted any time. I have tried to take the shortest possible route to obtain the information and review it," he said.
Mr. Cutruzzola's lawsuit notwithstanding, Mr. Rust-D'Eye's report was meant to bring an end to concerns over this development deal, but instead, said many members of council, left more questions than answers.
Dominus Construction was awarded the $205-million contract in 2011, after staff paid it $480,000 to acquire a land option without first seeking approval from staff. Mr. Rust-D'Eye took no issue with this, saying council had given staff pre-approval to make such payments.
In general, councillors were minimally involved in the procurement process, known as "competitive dialogue," in which staff solicited bids, chose a winner and ironed out contract details and then turned to council at the end for final approval.
"Staff didn't mislead council, they lied to council," said Councillor Elaine Moore. She later accused the auditor-general of the same.
Many speakers Monday evening took issue with the way Mr. Rust-D'Eye's investigation was conducted, since it relied heavily on interviews with staff.
"I feel betrayed because the report fails to mention the obvious, which is that some members of council and some staff acted irresponsibly," said Peter Bailey, one of several frustrated residents who addressed council.
Ms. Jeffrey said her predecessors, led by disgraced former mayor Susan Fennell, were trying to be "trail blazers" with this downtown development deal.
"We did in fact blaze a trail and now municipalities will be understandably more cautious with the procurement process used in major projects given our experience," the mayor said.