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Forensic audit renews controversy over Brampton mayor’s spending

Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell is shown in May, 2013. Her expenses are under the microscope in the wake of a forensic audit.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell breached the city's code of conduct repeatedly during her last term on council by expensing everything from $128,000 in airfare passes, to $2,050 on luxury hotel room upgrades, to $220 for IQ quizzes on her cellphone, according to a long-awaited report by a third-party auditor.

This afternoon, she will face the scrutiny of her council colleagues when they discuss the audit report prepared by Deloitte Canada.

Deloitte detailed how Ms. Fennell purchased "Latitude" flight passes from Air Canada instead of buying tickets because they allowed for greater flexibility in scheduling or cancelling trips and included complimentary upgrades to business-class seating. Each trip that Ms. Fennell and her staff made using flight passes was more expensive than the standard economy-class fare paid by councillors heading to the same destinations and meetings. For instance, 2013 trips by the mayor and her staff to Vancouver for a Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference cost an average of $1,917, while councillors made the same trip at an average price of $738.

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Councillor John Sprovieri criticized the mayor's spending during council's lunch break Wednesday, just ahead of the council debate on the report.

"When I see someone who's supposed to be … a servant of the people take advantage and live it up on their dollars, to me that's very pathetic," Mr. Sprovieri said.

Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell's expensing was excessive and a breach of the city's code of conduct, an audit has found. Flights taken by Ms. Fennell and her staff were sometimes triple the cost of what councillors were spending to attend the same events.

Average flight costs

The mayor and her staff used flight passes, which were found to be much more expensive than the economy fare tickets purchased by councillors and their staff.


On Tuesday evening, shortly after the report was released, the mayor said she accepted "much of what it has to say, but not all of what it has to say."

"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," said Ms. Fennell, who is seeking a fifth term as mayor this fall.

The audit was ordered by Brampton city council after a push from mayoral candidate Councillor John Sanderson last year after media reports exposed lavish spending by Ms. Fennell. The audit took four months to complete at the cost of $243,000 to Brampton taxpayers.

For years, the city's finance department acted as a check on council members' spending by reviewing and approving expense claims. But in 2011, councillors passed an updated code of conduct that replaced their old expense policy with one that allowed them to approve their own spending.

The audit examined all councillors' expenses as well as the mayor's from Dec. 1, 2010, to Jan. 31, 2014. Deloitte also looked into specific complaints from councillors relating to Ms. Fennell's expenses that fell before the most recent municipal election. About $57,000 of the mayor's flight pass expenses were from the last council term.

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Since councillors' discretionary spending is not posted publicly like it is in other cities, such as Mississauga, Ms. Fennell's spending habits were largely unknown until media outlets filed freedom-of-information requests last fall.

The flight passes purchased by Ms. Fennell and her staff included either 10 or 30 one-way trip credits and $4,685 worth of them expired before they could be used. Each trip on the pass costs more than the standard economy class fare that can be expensed under the city's travel policies.

Ms. Fennell came under fire when it was revealed that she asked her salary to be reduced in 2013 to $125,544 from $148,619 after facing backlash for being Canada's highest-paid mayor. In 2012, she made $213,000, including pay for serving on Peel Region council.

"[The report is] validating the fact that we have a mayor with with lavish spending habits," said Councillor Elaine Moore, one of Ms. Fennell's most outspoken critics. "In my view she has shown a blatant disregard for taxpayers' dollars."

Ms. Moore pointed to two trips to Victoria and Whistler, B.C., for FCM events in 2009 when the audit found Ms. Fennell stayed in Fairmont hotel rooms that cost $200 more per night than rooms her staff stayed in at the same hotels. The audit found this too was a breach of the city's travel policies.

"To me, that demonstrates entitlement," Ms. Moore said.

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The audit also found the mayor and a member of her staff expensed $459 worth of personal charges incurred on her city-issued mobile. She later told Deloitte that $220 of these charges were from "IQ Quizzes" and that her telecom provider would reimburse the costs.

It wasn't all bad news for the mayor: auditors cleared her of any wrongful spending on items her opponents had criticized her for for more than a year. Ms. Fennell and her staff of did not inappropriately using resources to support the Mayor's Gala, the Mayor's Golf Classic, the Community Spirit Team and other initiatives, despite accusations that had been made against them by members of the public and fellow councillors, Deloitte said.

In the fall, Ms. Fennell was criticized for retaining the use of a limo service at the cost of more than $45,000 per year, even though the city also provides her with a car. Auditors could not determine whether the mayor had improperly used the service since they could not track down records of use from the company, Total Eclipse Limousine Service.

Councillors also came under scrutiny as the audit found nearly $46,000 worth of transactions that were in breach of the city's expense policies and corporate credit-card agreements.

Mr. Sprovieri was found to have charged the city $558 worth of inappropriate expenses for tickets to various events for his spouse, something he said he didn't know was against the rules.

"I believed sincerely that if it was improper, that the treasury would say these are not permitted," he said Wednesday. "There's no excuse and that's why I'll pay back the $500."

Councillor Sanderson was identified as charging the city $328 for a hospital parking bill, which isn't covered under the existing expense policy. The audit noted he paid the money back to the city.

He told reporters he has no regrets about pushing for a forensic audit of councillors, even though it exposed some of his own expenses that violated city policies.

"I don't feel caught, I feel as though we're going to be educated," he said. "That's what I said when I put the motion forward. None of us are going to be squeaky clean."

Former Liberal MPP Linda Jeffrey, also a mayoral candidate, said she will read the report with interest.

"Brampton's finances have some really serious challenges," she said. "There was a lot of resistance to having this transparency so I'm pleased that it's finally on the table."

The audit results will be reviewed by the city's integrity commissioner, Robert Swayze, who will report back to council whether the expenses in the audit violate councillors' code of conduct.

With a report from Dakshana Bascaramurty

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