Original Published on Sep 15, 2022 at 07:53
Integrity commissioner confirms Patrick Brown misled council; emails reveal backroom dealing prior to bidding process; mayor cancels more meetings
By Jessica Durling, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Mayor Patrick Brown has boycotted another Council meeting and cancelled all others for more than the next month, preventing any public information from coming forward related to a half-dozen forensic investigations that he cancelled August 26.
The probes into questionable procurements under Brown’s leadership were largely completed and damning findings have already been presented to the City by investigators. But on August 26, Brown took advantage of a councillor absence during a meeting and unexpectedly brought motions forward, on the spot, using 5-4 votes to terminate the investigations ordered by a majority of council members in May.
On Monday, councillors had planned to ask questions of Froese Forensic Partners, the investigator hired to probe two of the contracts for the failed Brampton University project pushed by the mayor, along with his four allies, Councillors Rowena Santos, Harkirat Singh, Paul Vicente and Michael Palleschi. None of them showed up, resulting in the cancellation of the meeting. Brown has also cancelled all other council and committee of council meetings till October 18, making it difficult for councillors who called the investigations to bring information to the public ahead of the October 24 municipal election.
The investigations were set to be completed this week and presented immediately after, as councillors who pushed for the probes had stated voters should know what happened before going to the polls to decide who will lead council in the next term of office.
Froese had shared an alarming public update on his investigation that revealed: Rob Godfrey’s firm and David Wheeler 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.
Godfrey is a close friend and political confidante of Brown and Wheeler is a friend and mentor of Santos. A majority of council members were never informed of the relationships and 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.
Immediately after Froese released some of his initial findings, Brown cancelled the investigations, and also terminated another series of forensic reviews being done by a different third-party investigator hired to look into more questionable procurements involving Brown and senior staff he recruited to the City.
On August 26, a Special Council meeting was held after the update into the BramptonU investigations by Froese included evidence that the bidding process was not fair and that Wheeler and Godfrey’s firm were given advantage not provided to other bidders for work that cost the City $629,000. Brown called the snap meeting with less than 24 hours notice, and when Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon, who previously supported the investigations, did not show up, Brown moved motions to pull the plug on all the investigations, doing so with 5-4 votes (the eleventh seat on council has remained empty since Charmaine Williams won her provincial election race in June).
Godfrey’s firm received more than three times the amount of money than what council had approved in 2019, despite failing to do much of the work. Froese was expected to reveal who authorized almost $360,000 in additional payments, without any council approval, but Brown cancelled the investigation before the information could be made public.
On September 9, Froese sent the City a “final status update letter” followed by 498 pages of evidence detailing what the investigation work had found. Included were supporting documents and appendices, which Brown ensured would not be made public when he brought forward his motion on August 26. A motion supported by the councillors who pushed for the investigations called for all work already completed by the investigators to be made public, but Brown and his four allies voted it down.
The almost 500-page document from Froese contains key evidence and details about how the unauthorized payments were made and how Godfrey and Wheeler communicated behind the scenes, according to Councillor Jeff Bowman who served on the steering committee for the Brampton University investigations. He said the document contains emails that Santos had written to the then-CAO and Mayor Brown, offering to make one of the consultants’ proposal more attractive to Council.
“SRI and ASI (SRI was Godfrey’s firm and ASI was the firm Wheeler used to get his contract) had sent invoices over and above (what was authorized by council) and indicated that it would be above the budget and it was approved by various sources through various emails—all that was in the file,” Bowman told The Pointer.
“The significance is this seems to be a file that the mayor and his supporters do not want to come to public for some reason.”
Froese Forensic stated it would be issuing a final update status report that was to include work done between August 17, when the original update draft was completed, to August 26 when Brown cancelled the investigation.
Despite the cancellation, on Monday, September 12, Froese Forensic was set to attend Council virtually to discuss the 500-page evidence document publicly and answer any questions from council members—but the meeting didn’t move forward when Brown and his four council allies refused to attend. Dhillon, as he did on August 26 (allowing the investigations to be cancelled) also did not attend.
Santos, Singh, Palleschi and Vicente were absent as well, so without quorum the meeting was cancelled.
Bowman said he expected the draft status report document to be made available at the next Council meeting, but Brown cancelled all of them until October 18.
“There is no question in my mind that the mayor didn’t want to cover the topics that were on the printed agenda, including my own which was questions about how those meetings were cancelled, why they were cancelled, the reasoning behind the motions that got them to be cancelled, as well as a recent item I had which was a whistleblower item that was sent to Council and a number of media.”
While Brown and his four council supporters boycotted the Monday morning meeting when the forensic investigations were supposed to be dealt with, he called for a separate special meeting that afternoon at 4 p.m. As per special meeting rules, the member of Council who organizes it gets to choose what’s on the agenda. There was no inclusion of the forensic investigation, the update reports or the 500-page evidence document, and the investigator who was scheduled to speak at the cancelled morning meeting was not invited by Brown to speak at his special afternoon meeting called at the last minute.
“That entire agenda (for Brown’s special meeting), there was no reason why that entire agenda couldn’t be put on Wednesday’s Council meeting and taken care of,” Bowman said. “All those were, were little campaign promises the mayor has made while knocking on doors.”
The Brampton University investigations were not the only ones the mayor cancelled involving friends or associates who received lucrative City contracts after he was elected.
Results of a third-party investigation into four other contracts were planned to reach Council before the election, by another forensic investigator looking into whether proper procurement procedures were used in City contracts.
On August 26, when Dhillon did not show up for the scheduled meeting, Brown passed a motion ending the other investigations, sending the file to the Integrity Commissioner office, despite staff advising that such matters are outside the jurisdiction of the integrity commissioner.
Principles Integrity serves as the City’s integrity commissioner and is currently not handling new investigations until after the October 24 election as per the Municipal Act.
In an email to The Pointer September 7, when asked if investigations into City procurements are within the integrity commissioner’s jurisdiction, Principles Integrity said it has no jurisdiction to look into an operational issue, such as the issuance of an RFP.
“Our primary focus is on the ethical behaviour of individual members of Council and not on council decisions or operational matters. If there were a complaint about an individual member(s) of Council (or of a local board) inappropriately participating in an RFP process then there might be a role. But generally speaking an integrity commissioner would not have the role an auditor, or a forensic investigator, or an ombudsman might have in such matters,” Principles Integrity wrote.
Brown was told by City staff his claim of allowing the integrity commissioner to handle the investigations was not supported by the language of the Municipal Act, which established what an IC can do. But he ignored the direction.
Brown brought the motion forward and it was seconded by Santos, both of whom are at the centre of many of the allegations of wrongdoing. The motion came right after his cancellation of the BramptonU forensic investigation which already found that an advantage was given in RFPs where a friend of Santos and a friend of Brown’s firm received more than $629,000 in contracts.
Brown’s motion demanded Council direct the other four investigations to the Integrity Commissioner and “no further work be undertaken.”
The City of Brampton has spent $50,000 plus taxes on the third-party forensic investigations into the four RFPs, and the findings were expected to be delivered to Council in September.
City Clerk Peter Fay told council members that the office of the Integrity Commissioner isn’t the appropriate place to send such investigations.
“The Integrity Commissioner purview is member of Council behaviour, not other corporate business,” Fay said August 26.
There was a 14 second silence before Brown spoke again, ignoring Fay’s remarks. He asked City staff to display his motion on the screen for Council to vote on.
“So, put the wording on the screen, that RFP reviews be referred to the Integrity Commissioner’ and the point is Council should not be engaged in these types of investigations,” Brown told City staff during the livestreamed meeting. “It is largely political and it shouldn’t be and it should be referred to the Integrity Commissioner to determine whether it merits investigation.”
Fay reminded Brown that the IC office would not take new complaints until after the election. Brown added an amendment to his motion that the file be sent after the October 24 election is over.
“Through you, Mr. Mayor, just to be clear as members of Council know, the Integrity Commissioners purview mandate is paused because we’re in election period as of nomination day so this really wouldn’t have any force or effect,” Fay advised. “The Municipal Act says within six weeks after voting day the item can be referred to the Integrity Commissioner to pick up an item or not. I just want Council to be aware of that—there is no mandate for the Integrity Commissioner to take complaints from the public or anybody else or really receive direction from Council because we’re in an election period.”
The investigations quashed by Brown, which he claimed were politically motivated, include one for legal billing to the City involving a lawyer used by Brown personally; the RFP that led to the appointment of former integrity commissioner Muneeza Sheikh, who was unqualified and had personal connections to Brown; the RFP to shape the Municipal Development Corporation initiative, which was given to an associate of Brown who had no experience in the area; and the RFPs around COVID-19 supply purchases, after a private equity firm was given a contract for masks that was supposed to be for $82,000 but ended up costing $896,000.
When Brown revealed he was terminating the investigations Bowman got up and left the meeting on August 26, calling Brown’s motion a, “100 percent, total coverup of this Council of actions taken during this office.”
“So we’re just going to throw $50,000 plus tax away, hold this investigation off and any findings that might be determined until after the election. So any wrongdoing that might have been found during any of these RFP investigations, we’re just saying, ‘Don’t even worry about it, not important. Let’s hold the election first, let’s vote everybody back in and then we’ll determine, or we’ll send it to an Integrity Commissioner who may not even be able to look at them because (it’s not their jurisdiction).’”
He added that Brown and his four allies don’t want the public to find out what went on with all the RFPs that were under investigation, involving friends and associates of Brown and Santos, and work that was never even done.
“If there was anything wrong, we’re sweeping it under the carpet, ‘Nothing to see here.’ I will not support that. Even though I’m not running for election again, so I have nothing to win, nothing to lose here, but I’m not going to be part of this. I’m not even going to be part of this vote. This is absurd. I am out of this Council meeting. Thank you.”
Within six seconds of Bowman leaving, Brown called for the vote. He gave a one second pause before declaring that he heard no opposition, at which point he was interrupted by Councillor Pat Fortini opposing what had happened. Brown closed the agenda item, and moved onto the next.
In an interview with The Pointer after the August 26 meeting on how he plans to get the investigations completed, Bowman said Brown could continue to stonewall any effort to investigate what happened with millions of dollars worth of contracts.
“I don’t know whether there could be any type of police investigation at this point,” Bowman said.
He also said the Ontario Ombudsman should take up the investigations Brown cancelled.
“This is almost a dictatorship, the mayor and his group of councillors now are doing whatever they feel like.”