Susan Fennell and councillor’s expenses audited after four-month investigation.
Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell and her staff breached a number of the city’s spending rules 265 times for expenses such as high-cost airfare, premium hotel rooms and personal expenses, a forensic audit has found.
In total, Fennell and her staff had 265 transactions for $131,581 in charges and expenses that breached city rules (not including what was reimbursed) and another 79 transactions for $155,952 in charges and expenses that might have breached city rules, but not enough information was provided by Fennell or the city to make a determination, the audit by Deloitte Canada said.
The audit, released late Tuesday after a four-month investigation, also found numerous spending violations by other members of council.
It cleared Fennell of using staff since 2010 during business hours to help organize her private fundraising events, including her annual gala and golf tournament, and found no wrongdoing for her business-related travel to Florida in support of a Sister City agreement.
Fennell released a statement late Tuesday evening: “I have not read all of the report. I accept much of what it has to say, but not all of what it has to say…If there are changes that need to be made, I will make them.”
Fennell’s statement also accused the Star of publishing “unfair, unwarranted and inaccurate material” for months. The full text is available on thestar.com.
Instances of rules breached by Fennell and her staff over the past seven years, according to the audit included:
- Expense policy breaches in 89 transactions totaling $70,615 for flight passes since 2010 that exceeded economy class airfare, contrary to the city’s rules.
- More than $10,000 charged by Fennell on her city-issued credit card in Florida that was not for city business. Most of these charges were reimbursed by Fennell’s private gala.
- More than $20,000 charged by Fennell and her staff on their city issued credit cards in Florida and across Canada that was not for city business, including at restaurants, for airfare, jewelry and department store purchases. Most of these were reimbursed.
- About a half-dozen stays at hotels that were booked by Fennell and her staff at premium room rates
- Nine cellphone charges by Fennell for 44 IQ quizzes that cost $220.
The other 10 members of council had a total of $42,979 in expenses and charges that breached the city’s rules, and another $31,040 that might have breached the rules, the audit found.
“We express no opinion as to whether the information presented in this report is sufficient to establish civil or criminal wrongdoing, as only a court can determine these matters,” the auditors note.
The audit also found that Fennell had 38 transactions totaling $144,150 for her 24/7 on call limousine service that may have breached the city’s expense and spending policies, but neither Fennell nor the car service company provided sufficient reports to show what the mayor used the service for.
The report cleared her of using staff for her annual private gala and golf tournament since 2010, stating they did minimal work during business hours. However, some city resources were used to help organize the events which raise money for local community groups.
The audit also cleared Fennell and her staff for business-related travel to Florida in 2007, 2008 and 2009, stating that it was in support of Brampton’s Sister City dealings with Miami Beach. And it said her first-class airfare for trade missions to Asia complied with the city’s rules.
A contract given to the company owned by a close friend of Fennell’s was also reviewed by the audit. It found that a 2010 $4,725 charge to a staffer’s credit card to hire event planning company Meri-Mac may have been split into two invoices to avoid purchasing rules.
Councillor John Sanderson, who called for the audit and is running against Fennell in this year’s mayoral election, also did not escape the report’s critical findings.
One of the transactions he made that violated the city’s rules was a $506 airfare charge for his wife in 2013 while he was attending a municipal conference. He reimbursed the amount three months later. Another $103 charge for his wife’s airfare in 2011 for a another city-related conference was not reimbursed. Sanderson said that was an oversight and he will reimburse the amount immediately.
He added that the audit’s results are “fair and they now let Brampton residents really know what’s been going on. We need to use this as a constructive document to make sure all of this gets cleaned up.”
The audit by Deloitte Canada was called by council after the Star revealed Fennell’s spending. The audit broke down expenses into three categories: expenses that broke the rules, expenses that may have broken the rules and expenses for which there was not enough information to make a determination.
Fennell had billed $186,000 in discretionary spending over three years, as taxpayers unknowingly picked up the tab for things such as Fennell’s $1,300 Mandarin language lessons, the $500-a-night downtown Toronto hotel stay for the lessons, $2,100 for personalized barbecue aprons, $1,500 for Rose Orchestra tickets and $1 iTunes downloads.
Freedom of information requests also revealed Fennell and her staff charged $185,000 for travel over five years, including $2,832 for a four-night stay at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, $1,847 for a return flight to Ottawa and $5,975 for one return flight to the Philippines.
Then, credit card statements obtained by the Star showed Fennell and her staff racked up $663,000 in charges over six years, including $28,006 for a 10-day stay at London’s InterContinental Hotel charged by Fennell and her chief of staff Ian Newman.
Other charges included: $4,404 for Fennell to fly to London; about $4,000 for Fennell, her husband and two friends to fly to Florida and about $1,850 for car rentals on the trip (Fennell later said the amount was reimbursed to the city); 39 charges on Fennell’s city credit card at Shoppers Drug Mart totaling $2,937; 13 charges at the LCBO totaling $1,946; $2,445 charged by Fennell’s scheduling assistant Sandra Carpino at an online jewelry store; about $1,000 in 407 toll charges for Fennell’s city vehicle in 2012 alone; and about 260 gas station charges, including multiple ones on the same day, totaling $16,000.
About $45,000 of the overall charges were reimbursed, $24,294 by Fennell’s private gala which raises funds for local community groups, $10,680 by Fennell herself, and $6,009 by Carpino, who also charged flights to Atlanta for her and her family.
Councillor John Sanderson, who is challenging Fennell for the mayor’s job in this year’s election, called for the audit which was unanimously supported by fellow councillors after they failed to get clarification for much of the spending from Fennell.
In April Fennell told council that “No monkey business” was going on, regarding her charges and expenses.
~ San Grewal, Urban Affairs Reporter