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Audit committee OKs investigation into Richmond Hill councillor's flyer

Beros vows to appeal audit ruling
July 15, 2015
By Kim Zarzour

Ward 1 Councillor Greg Beros will face a compliance audit for his election expenses related to last year’s municipal election.

The Joint Compliance Audit Committee ruled today that Beros’ campaign finances should be investigated, as he may have breached the Municipal Act when he used public funds to mail a flyer during a time period when candidates were forbidden to do so.

The application for an audit was brought forward by Oak Ridges resident Kristi Kanitz.

“I am pleased the committee recognized he was in breach of the rules and will take appropriate steps to ensure that Richmond Hill taxpayers are not paying for his campaign,” Kanitz said after the hearing at town hall this morning.

In a submission to the committee, Kanitz said Beros mailed a campaign-style newsletter to almost 12,000 addresses in Ward 1 and billed the town.

The mailout contained information on voting records of other councillors that was repeated verbatim on his campaign website, she said.

Constituents also lambasted Beros for the flyer at the Ward 1 all-candidates meeting last fall.

Documents showed Beros delivered the piece of literature to Canada Post after the official Town of Richmond Hill cut-off date for municipal election mailings of Sept. 10.

Beros admitted the newsletter was sent Sept. 11, but blamed a delay by the printer, arguing at yesterday’s hearing that the town policy “isn’t the best-written policy we’ve seen and it leaves a lot of things left to imagine”.

Town policy says the town shall cease providing members of council with services “starting the day prior to nomination day” (Sept. 12) and extending up to the day following voting day.

Beros argued he was within his rights mailing on Sept. 11 because the blackout didn’t start until the end of the day Sept. 11.

At the committee hearing, he read out an email exchange between his assistant and the clerk’s office, in which then deputy clerk Gloria Collier said if the newsletter was not available until Sept. 11, the statement of mailing would be dated that day, and “with this in mind I am able to sign off the statement of mailing”.

But Kanitz said Beros omitted reading out an essential portion of that email, in which the clerk warned that Beros risked a complaint being made that he did not follow policy.

“That was a warning,” Kanitz told the hearing. “They warned him that if he did not meet the 10th, he would breach the policy. He was well aware of the policy.”

Kanitz noted that Beros did not disclose to the town his breach of the deadline until he was confronted and told that it was late.

“Mr. Beros missed the deadline. Why he left it so close to the deadline, I’ll leave that to your wisdom as to why he would aim to be so close to nomination day and the election period with a town-financed piece of material that laid out his voting record - but he missed the deadline,” said Kanitz, noting in her complaint that he is an experienced politician who should know the rules.

Janet Andrews, audit committee chair, shared the view that he did not meet the deadline, saying “I do believe the mailing was late and probably should be a campaign expense”.

But Andrews said she was torn on her ruling.

“Whether or not as the councillor has said, this policy is vague, that’s for council to clean up, it’s not for this committee to clean up,” she said. “Where I’m having trouble is with the cost to the town.”

To proceed with the compliance audit could cost $20,000, just to recover $1,600 in postage, she said.

If Beros offered to pay the town back for the postage and printing of the material, Kanitz asked, could he help avoid the expense of an audit?

If Beros were willing make an agreement with the town and auditor to reimburse the town, committee member Terry Anderson said, some of the audit costs could be reduced.

Beros, however, said he plans to appeal the decision. He has 15 days to file an appeal.

“I have always worked in the best interest of the residents, trying to save tax dollars or bring new facilities to my ward,” he said in an email to The Liberal. “I will appeal this decision, as I do not believe it to be in the best interest of the taxpayers.”

Beros is the first Richmond Hill politician to have campaign expenses brought before the Joint Compliance Audit Committee.

The committee is shared by all municipalities in York Region, except Markham. Three other applications for compliance audits have come before the committee following last fall’s election. Audit requests by Vaughan and Newmarket were rejected, and an application hearing in Whitchurch-Stouffville is set for July 20.