Corp Comm Connects
Brampton council votes to probe contracts awarded to Mayor Susan Fennell’s friend
Current integrity commissioner will be replaced, for a fresh investigation of Fennell’s private fundraising tactics.
May 28, 2014
By San Grewal

Brampton councillors have ordered an internal investigation into city contracts given to a company owned by a friend of Mayor Susan Fennell.

They also voted Wednesday to expedite replacing the current city integrity commissioner with a new one, to probe Fennell’s private fundraising activities.

“We need to know if any other firms had a chance to get this work,” Councillor John Sprovieri said at Wednesday’s council meeting, referring to 453 city contracts awarded since 2001 to event planning company Meri-Mac, owned by Malcolm Scott Ching. Their total value: more than $1.1 million.

Ching has said in a written statement to the Star that his company provides outstanding value and service and that the vast majority of city contract costs were to cover disbursements, the purchase of products and sales tax.

A Star investigation found that Ching lives in a house owned by Fennell and is described by neighbours and others as a close personal friend of the mayor. In 2007 Fennell used her city-issued credit card to purchase airfare for Ching to Florida, on the same day she charged a flight for herself and her husband to Florida. She said the cost was later reimbursed to the city.

Ching’s company has also been paid between $350,000 and $550,000 a year to plan and stage Fennell’s annual private gala and golf tournament, which has no official link to the city.

The Star asked Fennell and Ching numerous times over four weeks about their connection, whether or not Ching lives in a house owned by the mayor, and whether she ever helped him get city work. They did not respond.

Fennell was not at Wednesday’s committee of council meeting and did not respond to a request for comment.

Some councillors, citing recent stories in the media, wanted the external forensic auditor currently investigating Fennell’s spending, as well as that of councillors, to investigate the Meri-Mac contracts.

“That could cost millions,” responded Councillor Gael Miles, a Fennell ally. She said there was no need for an investigation because there “was no wrongdoing” in the contracts. A job for $4,725, in which the Star discovered city rules were not followed, was just “one case where there could have been a slip-up,” she said.

It was the sole contract out of 453 Meri-Mac had received since 2001 that the Star originally looked into, because unlike others it had been charged to a city credit card issued to a Fennell staffer. When the Star requested details of other contracts, the city said the files had been sent to the forensic auditor and were unavailable.

“I have had people in this community who do the same kind of work as Meri-Mac, who say they go to Mississauga because they can’t get their foot in the door with the City of Brampton,” said Councillor Elaine Moore. “That’s the issue and that’s what we need to get to the bottom of.”

Most of the nine councillors present strongly argued for a probe, then took up chief administrative officer John Corbett’s suggestion to ask the city auditor to do it. Full council will have to approve that decision at its June 4 meeting.

Councillors then shifted their focus to Fennell’s use of city resources for her private events, responding to Star reports revealing that the mayor’s staff have routinely used city staff and equipment during business hours to organize her private events and solicit sales.

Moore said she had seen the emails from Fennell’s office obtained by the Star under freedom of information requests, which were provided to councillors. “Quite frankly, there is a shocking amount of staff time and resources” involved, she said.

Corbett confirmed the auditor will be allowed to investigate Fennell’s use of city resources.

Councillors then voted to repeal the bylaw creating the city’s office of the integrity commissioner, so that the current commissioner can be dropped.

This was to clear the way for a new bylaw and new commissioner, who will be asked to re-investigate Fennell’s fundraising activities, based on the emails.

Facing pressure from council and the media in 2011, Fennell had asked the current commissioner, Donald Cameron, to look into her gala-related practices.

He subsequently cleared her, noting that Fennell “strongly denies” that 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.”

Emails uncovered in the Star’s recent investigation suggest that Fennell tried to solicit as much as $100,000 for her gala.

“She misled the integrity commissioner, there’s no question about it, and that’s very clear in the emails,” Moore said.

Councillors plan to file an immediate complaint to the new integrity commissioner is hired, saying that Fennell misled the previous one.

Asked about the emails last week, Fennell said in a statement: “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.”