Original Published on Jun 20, 2022 at 07:03

By Jessica Durling, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

On Wednesday, Brampton council was unable to convene to discuss the filling of the seat for Wards 7 and 8, the building of a Tamil Genocide Monument and more city business as Mayor Patrick Brown, and four other members failed to show up.

To have quorum and move forward with business, council requires a majority of members to attend. If at least six of the eleven seats on Brampton Council are not represented at a meeting it can not take place.

While Councillors Jeff Bowman, Pat Fortini, Gurpreet Dhillon, Martin Medeiros and Doug Whillans were in attendance, Michael Palleschi, Paul Vicente, Harkirat Singh and Rowena Santos, along with Brown, were nowhere to be seen.

The group that did show up has been working since early in the year to address a series of troubling controversies under Brown’s leadership, reported by The Pointer.

On Wednesday those who did appear at the meeting, later released a press release with the headline: WHAT IS PATRICK BROWN HIDING? CITY BUSINESS SHUT DOWN

They suggest a previous decision on May 31, by a majority of councillors, made when former member Charmaine Williams was still on Council, before she was elected as an MPP on June 2, is the reason why Brown and the other four members did not show up.

“As of the close of business today, Wards 7 & 8 residents should have an appointed replacement to fill the seat vacated by former councillor Charmaine Williams; but they don’t because of the stunt played by Patrick Brown, and Councillors Santos, Vicente, Palleschi and Singh, who refused to attend today’s council meeting,” the press release signed by each of the five councillors present at today’s meeting, states. “Their tactic robs Brampton taxpayers of representation, shuts down city business and prevents a sixth member from being at the table with our group to move votes and bring accountability to City Hall.”

Brown and the others who did not show up for the Council meeting have not explained why they failed to attend, as they are required. The Pointer did not receive a response to questions sent to each member who did not attend Wednesday’s meeting.

The press release lays out concerns of the other councillors.

“The latest evidence of wrongdoing, showing that Brown has been using taxpayer-funded City Hall staff to work on his federal campaign to become the Conservative leader came as no surprise to us and members of the public who have watched for four years as the media have reported on irregularities in hiring and procurements,” the release says, referring to a video produced by Rebel News released last week that shows vehicles belonging to City Hall staff parked at the Vaughan office where Brown is running his federal Conservative leadership campaign from. 

The release continues: “Brown’s friends have been getting lucrative contracts for work that was never completed. Council has directed a sweeping set of investigations—financial forensic audits and procurement audits—with results expected to be reported to Council within the next 60 days. Additionally there are two Council complaints with the Integrity Commissioner against Councillor Santos regarding potential conflict of interest and harassment of City staff. If the Mayor and these Councillors are not held accountable for their actions today they will continue to use this abusive tactic of not showing up to Council meetings to avoid the results of important audits and investigations from being made public so that taxpayers are fully aware of what’s happening at their City Hall.”

On May 31st, Council voted to have former longtime councillor Elaine Moore replace Williams, if she were to win a provincial seat, but Brown and the four members who have voted with him on most contentious matters did not support the decision. 

Now, with only ten members on Council instead of eleven, after Williams resigned following her victory, a meeting to officially fill her vacated seat cannot take place unless at least six members show up. This could prevent any of the investigations into conduct under Brown’s leadership from coming before Council ahead of the October 24 municipal election.

Medeiros, Bowman, Fortini, Dhillon, Whillans and Williams vowed to restore good local government in the city following a series of scandals involving former CAO David Barrick. Barrick was recruited by Brown, who he shared a number of close Conservative ties with, before he was fired in February when the six members had grown frustrated with how Barrick and Brown were running City Hall. Barrick had been implicated in a number of scandals in Niagara, where he was fired from his role before Brown brought him to Brampton. Not long after arriving Barrick was accused of nepotism, bullying and misuse of public funds.

In March, Brown announced his leadership bid to helm the federal Conservative Party.

He has since missed votes and large parts of Council meetings while travelling across the country campaigning for the Conservative leadership. He and the other four members who have supported him, and failed to show up Wednesday, have tried to block investigations into alleged wrongdoing under Brown and Barrick, including the mishandling of $629,000 for the city’s failed BramptonU project.

The items listed on Wednesday’s agenda will automatically be carried over to the next Council meeting. The Municipal Act states Council “shall” declare a seat vacant at the next meeting following a resignation. Williams resigned last Wednesday. Moore, under the May 31 resolution of Council, should have automatically filled the seat during today’s scheduled meeting, once it was declared vacant under the requirement of the Act. It’s unclear if Brown and the other four members will continue to absent themselves from Council meetings, to avoid the appointment and stall the accountability efforts of other members. This would also prevent crucial business from moving forward. Permits would be halted, development applications would not be approved, critical infrastructure decisions would not be made, funding for badly needed work would not be allocated and many other pieces of Council work would not take place. Municipal government in Brampton would be shut down.

The fate of the Council-directed investigations is unclear, leaving work such as the BramptonU forensic audit hanging in the balance. The six Councillors who ordered the probes expressed their anger recently when they learned from a staff report that two consultants, one with ties to Brown and one directly connected to Santos, did not complete much of the work, despite receiving almost $630,000 to help plan the now abandoned university project. They learned Santos had arranged to have a close friend work on the plan without their knowledge and the man charged expenses for international travel to Brampton taxpayers before he was even given a contract by the City.

On May 31, Brown and the four councillors failed to stop a motion to supply a forensic auditor with whatever relevant information is needed on the BramptonU file, following a council steering committee meeting with the unnamed third-party investigator who will be conducting a forensic review.

Councillors were supposed to get an update on the investigation and other accountability actions the six members initiated.

Councillor Medeiros said he was not told of Mayor Brown’s absence prior to Wednesday’s meeting.

“I’m just surprised. I don’t expect my colleagues to talk to me, but I would have expected the mayor of the city to inform other members of council including myself,” Medeiros said.

“My number one concern is you now have Wards 7 and 8, an area of the city who is at a disadvantage—they do not have representation as every other ward has in the city.”

Medeiros said he didn’t receive any reason why the mayor and the other four members of council did not attend, and therefore cannot confirm their motivation.

But it’s clear from the press release that he and the other members who signed it believe Brown and his supporters are trying to prevent an eleventh member from being sworn in, which could block a majority from forming, stalling the investigations into widespread allegations of wrongdoing around hiring and procurement and, now, new concerns about Brown’s use of City Hall staff for his federal campaign.

“If he doesn’t agree with it… We can have a healthy debate, maybe he changes my mind, he shows leadership,” Medeiros said.

“If you disagree with a decision of council and they do not want to have a member of council or someone be appointed, they can’t not attend council…”.

Medeiros said he is concerned city business will be gravely delayed, pointing to the Tamil Genocide Monument which was planned to be discussed during Wednesday’s meeting, as well as a development application for his own constituency.

“Council can have disagreements about decisions. Unfortunately, the way council works is that the majority of councillors make a decision and you have to respect that’s how the majority of council does it. Sometimes you win a motion, sometimes you lose a motion,” he said. “Let the mayor show leadership and let the other members of council show up to council, debate the issue, and let us proceed.”

After City Hall business was shut down, the press release had stronger words for the mayor.

“Patrick Brown is ignoring his obligation to taxpayers and to the City of Brampton. He continues to take the residents and taxpayers of our City for granted.”

“A previously chosen replacement for Williams was supposed to be made official today, but that can’t happen if Brown and his followers refuse to show up to do their job.”

This item reprinted with permission from The Pointer, Mississauga, Ontario