Outgoing Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell will lose 90 days' pay for breaching the city's code of conduct and must also repay $144,150.25 for driving services unless she can provide receipts, council ruled Wednesday.
The motion passed 7-3.
Council had called a special meeting to decide what sanctions to impose on Ms. Fennell after a forensic audit in August done by Deloitte found that as mayor she inappropriately charged the city more than $100,000 in travel and accommodation costs. The city's integrity commissioner, Robert Swayze, reviewed the findings and ruled Ms. Fennell broke the code of conduct.
Ms. Fennell did not attend the meeting as she is set to undergo urgent spinal surgery for two herniated disks.
Council ordered her to pay back the $144,150.25 she spent on a driver from 2010 to 2013 because she was unable to provide Deloitte auditors with enough documentation to prove she used the driver only for city business. The audit itself did not order Ms. Fennell to pay back this money because there wasn't enough information to determine if this spending was out of bounds.
"Show us the receipts and the mayor is off the hook," Councillor John Sprovieri said, calling the motion "very fair."
"In the real world, if you don't have documentation, you don't get paid back," Councillor Elaine Moore said at the meeting. "This council approves the driver for the office of the mayor so they can conduct business of the office of the mayor. And what this council was asking for … was the truth."
If Ms. Fennell doesn't reimburse the city from her personal funds, council will take the money from her severance.
Council voted against applying the same salary sanction to Councillors John Hutton and Bob Callahan, whom Mr. Swayze also found to have broken the code, because his report said they did not do so knowingly. In contrast, the report said Ms. Fennell "violated the code by knowingly overspending on her business travel."
Ms. Fennell and other councillors found to have broken spending rules had the opportunity to meet with arbitrator Janet Leiper to dispute the amounts the Deloitte audit said they should reimburse.
The Deloitte auditors asked Ms. Fennell to reimburse the city about $34,000 in travel and hotel costs. Ms. Leiper, who also wrote a report on the matter, found that Ms. Fennell needed to pay back only $3,522.97. The difference was due mainly to a disagreement between Ms. Leiper and Deloitte over whether flight passes, purchased by Ms. Fennell at rates higher than regular economy fare, were permissible. Ms. Fennell called a press conference at the time in response to Ms. Leiper's report and declared herself "exonerated."
Councillors who voted against punishing Ms. Fennell felt the issue was being dragged out and worried that she could sue the city, costing taxpayers even more in legal fees.
"We have wasted taxpayers dollars and time in a dispute that needs to end," Councillor Gael Miles said. "If it isn't stopped today, it's going to continue."
Ms. Fennell recently threatened to sue councillors, Mr. Sprovieri and John Sanderson, for allegedly making defamatory statements to media about her spending scandal. She also threatened to sue Deloitte and Mr. Swayze in September, which at the time delayed council's decision on possible sanctions.
The Ontario Provincial Police launched an investigation after council referred the audit's findings to police this summer.