Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell's private fundraisers returned only 25 per cent to community
May 21, 2014
By San Grewal
Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell’s private fundraising events have brought in more than $1.7 million over the past two years, but only 25 per cent of that has gone to the community groups they support.
The amounts were revealed in newly released financial statements last week by Stepping Out For Brampton Inc., the non-profit organization created in 2011 to run Fennell’s lavish annual private gala and her golf tournament, which are promoted as fundraisers for local community groups.
“That’s just wrong,” said Danny DelMedico, owner of a Brampton real estate business, who paid $1,000 for two tickets to attend Fennell’s gala in 2008, but didn’t know how little was disbursed.
“That’s all bells and whistles, lavish entertainment. That’s wrong to give only 25 per cent to community groups.”
By comparison, United Way Canada, according to its website, gives 85 cents of every dollar it raises directly back to hundreds of community groups that it supports.
DelMedico said he has not supported Fennell’s private events in recent years.
Fennell’s events (her gala began in 2005 and the golf tournament a few years before that) are not registered charities, and therefore are not allowed to issue charitable receipts.
Some of the tickets were bought by developers, company representatives, the City of Brampton, Peel police, Peel police board and the Region of Peel.
“To see all the people who work for the city at this expensive gala - there were dozens of them. Who paid for them? I’ll tell you: Taxpayers. I paid for them.”
In 2012, more than $63,000 was spent by the City of Brampton, the Region of Peel and the Peel Police Services Board, of which Fennell is the vice-chair, to purchase tickets for her events.
Fennell did not respond to questions about the sum of money disbursed by her events.
The financial statements show that in 2012 and 2013 combined, $1,710,106 was raised and $442,005 was distributed to community groups. Almost $18,000 went to Fennell’s own private booster group, Mayor Susan Fennell’s Community Spirit Team, which is administered by the same board that decides which groups receive funding.
The gala board came under fire in 2010 for failing to produce financial statements. Statements from 2008 to 2013 have since been released, but there are none for 2005, 2006 or 2007. Incomplete bookkeeping has been blamed.
While 25 per cent of the overall money raised in 2012 and 2013 went to community groups, about 63 per cent, or $1,077,323, went toward the cost of staging the annual gala and golf tournament. Twelve per cent of money raised went to administrative costs or was left unspent.The event planner contracted to stage the events was Meri-Mac, owned by local businessman Malcolm Scott Ching.
Brampton developer John Cutruzzola stopped donating in 2010, but in one year prior to that gave the gala a $25,000 sponsorship.
“As we know now, probably only three or four thousand (of the $25,000) went to the community,” Cutruzzola said.
“We didn’t know at the time, because there were no financial statements. We thought most of it was going for a good cause.”
Cutruzzola is currently engaged in a lawsuit against the city after his company’s proposal for a downtown redevelopment was disqualified. The lawsuit is still making its way through the courts.
Cutruzzola also said he stopped donating to Fennell’s events because he felt pressure from the mayor to contribute.
“You were put on the spot. That’s the impression people had. If the mayor called for money, what could you do?”
Fennell has denied asking for anything more than the cost of dinner tickets, but one email (one of a batch of mayor’s office communications obtained by the Star under a freedom of information request) shows that the mayor asked for commitments to donate as much as $100,000.
“(I am speaking to sponsors to make a 4 year commitment...25K gala/ 10K Golf...2012, 2013, 2014, 2015… and they seem to be receptive) This is just a general conversation… no paperwork…but it allows the ‘Invoice’ to go to the ‘informal pledge/commitment’ without my involvement year after year”, said one email.
In 2011, Donald Cameron, Brampton’s integrity commissioner, was asked by Fennell to investigate whether or not she had asked people to “contribute substantial amounts to the Mayor’s Gala in excess of the price of dinner tickets in order not to incur disfavour with the Mayor.”
In his report Cameron said he questioned the mayor about it and wrote “she strongly denies” it. He subsequently cleared Fennell.
When questioned if she asked for more than dinner tickets Fennell pointed to Cameron’s report.
“The IC had these and other allegations before him. He thoroughly investigated the facts interviewing witnesses and reviewed all kinds of documentation...The Integrity Commissioner found no wrongdoing.”
Other emails, almost all of them made from her city email account during weekday business hours, show the solicitations went beyond developers.
Fennell emailed Peel Region CAO David Szwarc on June 22, 2009, asking for separate golf foursome purchases for Szwarc, Peel Region chair Emil Kolb, and Peel Living, the region’s non-profit housing corporation.
In 2008 Fennell sent an email to fellow members of the police board soliciting $32,000 to buy eight tables: two for the region, two for the police department, two for the police board and two for a business that a board member worked for.
Under the subject line “2009 mayor’s gala” she wrote, “Please confirm, so they can be reserved … Gala will sell out early after last year’s success”.
In a June 25, 2010, message to Mark Brager of New Flyer, which has sold buses to Brampton, Fennell writes, “please consider Newflyer participating in the Mayors Golf Classic and a hole sponsor.”
On the same day she wrote to Omar Rashid of Microsoft Canada: “Omar, please confirm hole sponsor, 4-some and bronze sponsorship would be great.”
In April 2009, to Doug Munro, the head of Maritime Ontario and the current chair of Fennell’s gala board, she wrote: “May I request that you consider a silver sponsorship (12,500.00)”.
Fennell did not respond to questions about the emails.