Original Published on Sep 19, 2022 at 12:45
Outgoing city councillor asks Queen’s Park to intervene after mayor Patrick Brown cancels investigations into alleged City Hall wrongdoings
By Jessica Durling, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Brampton Councillor Jeff Bowman hosted a press conference at Queen’s Park Thursday, urging the provincial government to finish the forensic investigation work started by himself and a majority of councillors.
In May they launched a series of probes into allegations of widespread misconduct under Patrick Brown involving contracts and senior jobs given to his friends and associates without council’s knowledge. Work on at least two of the contracts was never completed, and one saw a firm whose point person is a close friend of Brown receive more than three times the amount of money than what council approved.
On August 26, Brown had just enough votes at a snap special council meeting he called to terminate all six of the investigations which had been ordered by a majority of councillors. Only nine of the usual eleven members attended the meeting, and Brown used a series of 5-4 votes, supported by the four councillors who have aligned with him throughout much of the term, to kill the investigations.
The move came immediately after evidence was released by a third-party investigator in an update report to the City showing widespread contract and procurement violations under Brown’s leadership. The two procurements that were detailed in the report involved a close friend of Brown and the close friend and mentor of Councillor Rowena Santos, the mayor’s most vocal supporter. Councillors were never informed about the relationships when the contracts were awarded through what was supposed to be a fair bidding process in 2019.
The report found it was not a fair and transparent process and that the friends of Brown and Santos were given clear advantages not provided to the other bidders.
Bowman, who is not seeking reelection, requested the Minister for Municipal Affairs and the Ontario Ombudsman finish the six forensic audits cancelled by Brown. He also asked that “strong mayor” powers being given to mayors in Toronto and Ottawa, not be extended to the City of Brampton as Brown has requested.
“My request here is that the province takes a very, very hard line on extending these powers to other mayors in other cities, in particular the city that I’m from, the City of Brampton, where Patrick Brown, and I will go through some of the reasons, has demonstrated why the strong mayor powers should not be given to certain individuals,” Bowman told members of the press and officials inside Queen’s Park.
Created to get more housing built, the Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act, 2022 was approved by the Ontario legislature September 8, giving unprecedented powers to the mayors of Ottawa and Toronto, including the ability to veto bylaws that conflict with provincial priorities. The power can be vetoed by a two-thirds vote of Council.
“With the province recently passing the extended powers for mayors in Ottawa and Toronto, I don’t think these powers should be given to the mayor of Brampton, if in fact he gets reelected,” Bowman said. “I think there’s enough evidence here that shows there’s too much opportunity in some of the things the PC government has proposed in these extra powers, to increase the level of corruption, to increase the level of, I don’t want to say ‘criminal activity’ because I don’t know if there was any, but the transparency that has to be involved with municipal government is not here in the City of Brampton.”
If Brown does get reelected with these powers, the councillor said he’s deeply concerned for his city.
“For me, it’s some of the items in the Bill itself; whether the mayor can appoint committees, whether the mayor can take actions the CAO would normally take. We’ve already had issues with the CAO in Brampton, much like they had problems in Niagara a few years back with the CAO. When you get into relationships like that, where the mayor has that power, and we’re already questioning whether that power has been abused or not but we’ll never be able to find out because the audits have been cancelled, I think that creates an opportunity we don’t want to take, in some of these municipalities.”
During Brown’s tenure, he coordinated the hiring of former CAO David Barrick, a man he was connected to through various PC circles. Barrick’s time at City Hall was mired in controversy. He had no experience running even a small municipal department, and his previous job at Niagara’s conservation authority was given to him by Conservative friends on the board in an improper hiring process, according to a scathing audit of the agency by Ontario’s auditor general. Barrick was fired, before Brown made him the highest ranking bureaucrat in Brampton City Hall, in charge of thousands of staff, effectively allowing Brown to direct activities such as the hiring of senior employees and the awarding of City contracts, as the evidence in the investigation updates and staff reports have shown.
Barrick illegally took over the Freedom of Information process—a key pillar of transparency for residents—and the internal audit process, which is supposed to be overseen by council; the internal anti-fraud hotline saw more complaints under his brief tenure than it had since its inception, but councillors later found out Barrick had the complaints closed himself; allegations of improper hiring practices came forward; and annual budgets for essential spending were cut to the bone under Brown’s demand to freeze spending (except for himself and senior staff) drawing the ire of Brampton’s business community who questioned how they could succeed with the city falling apart.
While Brown coordinated the hiring of Barrick behind the scenes, with strong mayor powers he would be perfectly within his rights to hire a CAO of his choosing, as well as department heads, and have control over the City’s budget.
Four years of tax freezes demanded by Brown have left City finances in dire straits and critical infrastructure projects delayed or without funding sources. A long-term financial master plan approved by the City of Brampton in May 2017, a little over a year before Brown was elected mayor, stated that to meet its capital and operating expenditures in the years ahead “modest” tax increases between 3 and 5 percent were necessary—and that “base case” scenario did not include a number of major projects still on the books for Brampton.
“The base scenario does not account for a number of potential major projects, such as Riverwalk and the future university, and assumes full senior government grant funding should the City move forward with construction of the Hurontario corridor LRT extension and/or the Queen Street LRT/BRT,” the report stated.
Bowman’s address at Queen’s Park follows Mayor Brown boycotting a Council meeting on September 12, and cancelling all others until right before the October 24 municipal election, preventing any information from coming forward related to a half-dozen forensic investigations before voters have to make their decision. Brown has been supported by his council allies Harkirat Singh, Michael Palleschi, Rowena Santos and Paul Vicente, all of whom are seeking reelection in October. The group has consistently fought against any efforts to get answers about taxpayer money being handed to friends of Brown and Santos, and the alleged improper hiring of senior staff.
The investigations were ordered in May, after a staff report showed much of the work meant to study the potential of Brampton’s own standalone university was never received and some of it arrived 17 months late, while the contract given to the firm of Rob Godfrey, Brown’s close friend, was somehow increased by more than three times the original amount approved by council. Instead of being paid $170,000, Godfrey’s firm was handed more than $500,000, and the third-party investigation by Froese Forensic Partners found much of the work that was supposed to have been performed was never done.
Froese was set to reveal who approved about $350,000 in extra payments, which were never authorized by council, but Brown terminated the investigation before this information came forward.
Another third-party investigator was hired to look into other questionable procurements involving Brown and senior staff he recruited to the City. These were also cancelled by Brown and his council supporters.
The Brampton University forensic audit was being conducted by Froese after allegations that individuals connected to Brown and Santos received lucrative city contracts. The public update report received right before Brown terminated the investigations on August 26 revealed that a firm called SRI, where Godfrey was a senior associate, and David Wheeler, a mentor and close friend who Santos travelled to Nova Scotia for when she helped with his political campaign there, did not fulfill their obligations under the contracts they were awarded; that Santos was in a conflict; appropriate invoicing and payment practices were not followed; and City policies and procedures were violated.
“The original amounts of these tenders were about $180,000 to $200,000. When we found out that by the time the RFP had been paid out we were looking at over $680,000,” Bowman told reporters at Queen’s Park. “We looked at that, we asked for a report, we found out there was no report—so nothing had been sent to the province. No final report had been given to the City of Brampton. We had exceeded the budget by a couple-hundred-thousand dollars.”
A majority of council members were unaware that Santos was working behind the scenes, as revealed in evidence presented by Froese, to help her friend secure work with the City, much of which was never done despite taxpayer dollars that were handed over.
“It was so concerning,” Bowman said, “in fact, that following the presentation of this interim update, the mayor took advantage of a councillor not being at City Hall for the votes, and him and four other councillors that supported him over the last four months voted to stop the forensic audit, to go no further with payments on the forensic audit, and accept the interim-update as the final report. I couldn’t believe it when that happened.”
Bowman mentioned that Councillor Martin Medeiros, after Brown killed the investigations, brought forward a motion on August 26 to make the evidence, including all appendices and other backup documents publicly available, since the work was already done and paid for by Brampton taxpayers who deserve to see what was already found. But Brown and his allies voted it down.
Bowman brought the nearly 500-page evidence document marked private and confidential, which he raised inside Queen’s Park to show reporters.
“I have the backup data because I was the chair of the steering committee. So I have the backup data but unfortunately I can’t release this to anybody and I can’t show it to anybody because of the motion that passed in Council. So if certain people, the government wants to see the backup data, if the police want to see the backup data, I’m sure we could share that data with them, but the residents of the City of Brampton will never see this data. They will never see what actually happened.”
Bowman said that he’s requesting the Ontario Ombudsman step in.
“Please, please, have the ombudsman come in, finish the reports and release all the findings and all the data to the residents of the city before the election. After the election it’s too late, everybody’s already been elected,” Bowman said.
“I’m hoping to get a response from the Minister, either Mr. (Steve) Clark or the Ombudsman themselves—or the Premier if we can do that.”