City Hall business could be stalled for the foreseeable future, as Mayor Patrick Brown and his four Council allies refuse to attend meetings, citing the appointment of former longtime councillor Elaine Moore as the reason for their decision.
Moore was selected by Charmaine Williams, and five other council members, to replace her, before she won a provincial seat in the June 2 Ontario election. The motion that passed May 31 states Moore, if Williams won the election, would step in to fill the seat for the remainder of the council term. The municipal election is October 24.
There is no language in Ontario’s Municipal Act that prevents a council from selecting a provisional replacement prior to an upcoming election, in the event that a member successfully wins a seat in a higher level government.
Ahead of the June 2 provincial election, when the motion to select Moore as the provisional replacement was brought forward, the vote was 6-5 in favour, with Williams participating in the decision on who would replace her, if she won the Brampton Centre race.
After boycotting last Wednesday’s Council meeting, when the seat was supposed to be officially declared vacant under the specific language of the Municipal Act, Brown and four other councillors who have supported him throughout the term gave their reasons for the extraordinary measure, which shut down City Hall business.
In a press release on June 16, they said “Ontario municipal legislation requires that Council wait until an empty seat is declared vacant before making a decision on how to fill it”, writing that they will be “working to get through this impasse as quickly as possible along with the assistance of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and the City Clerk.”
Brown, Michael Palleschi, Paul Vicente, Harkirat Singh and Rowena Santos did not support the decision to appoint Moore.
After sending their statement to The Pointer, Gary Collins, who handles communications for the mayor’s office, was asked to provide wording in the Municipal Act that supports their claim. No response was received.
The Act states, “If a vacancy occurs in the office of a member of council, the municipality shall, subject to this section… fill the vacancy by appointing a person who has consented to accept the office if appointed…”.
It also says the appointment has to occur, “Within 60 days after the day a declaration of vacancy is made…”.
The Act says the declaration of vacancy has to be made at the next meeting, following the resignation of a member.
To avoid triggering Moore’s official appointment, Brown, Santos, Vicente, Palleschi and Singh are refusing to allow a Council meeting to occur, which prevents both the vacancy from being declared, and the May 31 motion that selected Moore from being triggered.
Until Moore is officially appointed, it leaves the other five Council members who have appeared at the two meetings since Williams’ resignation took effect, one colleague short of having Quorum, which isn’t reached until six members, a majority of council, are present to allow a meeting to take place.
This presents a problem for municipal business, as key decisions cannot be made without the approval of Council through a majority vote at meetings.
Following the cancellation of the second meeting in three days, on July 17, Councillors Jeff Bowman, Pat Fortini, Gurpreet Dhillon, Martin Medeiros and Doug Whillans, issued a second press release aimed at Brown, for: “Forcing Council meetings to be cancelled and frustrating the democratic principle of the majority decides; purely to further his personal politically motivated agenda. Not only has City business ground to a complete halt with many time sensitive issues having to wait till the next Council meeting on July 4th, but the residents of Wards 7 & 8 remain only partially represented with just one Councillor while they continue to pay the full tax rate.”
The headline of their previous release, after last Wednesday’s meeting had to be cancelled, stated: “WHAT IS PATRICK BROWN HIDING? CITY BUSINESS SHUT DOWN.”
The five councillors said they have no definitive answer for residents who ask them when Brown and the others will be returning to council.
“While Patrick Brown, Rowena Santos, Paul Vicente, Michael Palleschi and Harkirat Singh, believe that residents will not hold them to account for their actions, we believe that they are sadly mistaken.”
Santos is currently facing two integrity commissioner investigations ordered by Council, one looking into her role in the BramptonU file and the other into allegations by senior employee Gurdeep "Nikki" Kaur that Santos harrased her. Santos denied the allegations in Council and Brown suggested the female staffer is lying.
Brown and the others have made it clear they do not want Moore to be Williams’ replacement. Williams had taken votes alongside the five councillors who have shown up for their job, while all of them tried to restore good governance inside City Hall following a series of alarming pieces of evidence.
Kaur provided screen shots of Brown in 2020 directing her and other senior staff inside City Hall to work for Peter MacKay’s failed bid to become the Conservative leader. The evidence shows Brown told them to be at locations during City work hours to sell memberships for MacKay.
Other evidence of wrongdoing includes a recent staff report on the failed BramptonU project pushed by Brown and Santos. Consultants with direct ties to them secured $629,000 in City Contracts for work that was never completed. Santos engaged her former mentor without informing other members of council and the man billed Brampton taxpayers for international travel before he was even given a contract.
An investigation into BramptonU is currently underway, as new evidence from video footage shot by Rebel News has raised questions about Brown’s use of City staff for his current Conservative leadership bid. The video shows two cars belonging to two City Hall employees who work for Brown at his Vaughan campaign office.
Forensic audits and investigations into hiring and procurement practices, and the use of taxpayer resources under Brown’s leadership are underway, ordered by Williams and the other five councillors now raising concern that Brown and his allies are trying to dodge accountability by shutting Council down until after the October 24 election.
Moore has been vocal on social media in support of the group, and critical of Brown after she helped get him elected in 2018 when he selected her to be one of his key local advisors.
She has since stated publicly that Brown and his allies have turned their backs on Brampton taxpayers.
Moore was first elected a councillor for Ward 1 in 2000 and then for Wards 1 and 5 in 2003. She remained on council until retiring in 2018 after the municipal election. Before her time as a councillor she spent 11 years as a Peel District School Board trustee.
Brown has frequently missed votes over the past several weeks as he continues to attend events across the country in his bid to win the federal Conservative Party leadership.
He has created confusion, telling national audiences that he has “no plans” to run again for the mayor’s job, while he told the local Punjabi language media platform Parvasi this weekend that he has not ruled out another run for the mayor’s job.
On the national level, Brown is facing an investigation by the Conservative Party into allegations of irregularities in his membership sign-up drive, while in Brampton the ongoing investigations into allegations of corruption under his leadership have raised concerns that Brown is trying to prevent the findings from being made public ahead of both the Conservative leadership vote on September 10 and the municipal election on October 24.
Members of Council not aligned with him have taken steps to replace a number of senior staff recruited under Brown, many with direct connections to him who lacked the required experience.
Former City solicitor Sameer Akhtar was the latest to be replaced. In another display of his questionable conduct, Akhtar told councillors their May 31 motion selecting Moore might have contravened the Municipal Act, failing to explain how this was the case or to provide any language from the Act that supported his claim.
Akhtar had previously tried to prevent debates around City Hall misconduct from taking place in public, repeatedly telling councillors that controversial issues involving Brown’s decision making should be handled in camera, behind closed doors. This frustrated members who eventually had to pass a motion declaring that previous corruption investigations would be handled in full view of the public (Brown curtailed those probes which never addressed allegations against him but revealed alarming conduct by since fired CAO David Barrick, who was recruited by the mayor).
The current investigations will probe contracts given to friends of Brown, who did not disclose the relationships to Council.
Brown’s Conservative political associates Brett Bell and Rob Godfrey received almost a million dollars in City Hall contracts shortly after he became mayor, with other members unaware the lucrative work was going to people directly tied to Brown through Conservative political circles.
The former integrity commissioner, Muneeza Sheikh, billed taxpayers more than $660,000 in two years while working part-time. She took the job despite her ties to Brown, and after publicly defending him against allegations of sexual misconduct. When he was Ontario PC leader her husband did contract work for Brown. Media outlets and a founder of Democracy Watch, Duff Conacher, said she was in a conflict, as investigations could be tainted due to her relationship with Brown. Sheikh had no experience in municipal law when she was given the job. Her contract was terminated in March, but she threatened legal action and is now challenging the move through the courts. Her hiring is currently under investigation by the firms selected by a Council steering committee overseeing the probes.
Many of the ongoing investigations into widespread allegations of wrongdoing under Brown could now be in jeopardy, as Council lacks the legislative mechanism to keep the probes moving forward if meetings cannot take place.
The council meeting on June 15 was cancelled. On June 17, other members of council convened again to hear an update on the BramptonU forensic investigation—but no such report was presented, as Brown and Santos (who are at the heart of the investigation) along with their allies, shut down the meeting.
Ordered May 18 by Council, the forensic investigation by an independent audit firm is looking into the mishandling of $629,000 for the failed Brampton University plan, following a staff report that showed much of the work was never received and some of it arrived 17 months late, while at least one of the two firms was not qualified for the lucrative job. Questions have also been raised about the quality of the work that was done.
A Council steering committee was formed with Dhillon, Fortini and Bowman named to work directly with the investigators to ensure their work meets the terms of reference and is presented to the public in a timely manner.
Both Santos and her closest council ally, Vicente, objected to the work of the steering committee, stating the acting CAO should have handled the work with investigators.
On May 31, the same day the motion naming Moore as the replacement was voted on, Council voted to direct the acting CAO, Paul Morrison, to inform all commissioners and directors of the forensic investigation, directing them and their staff to grant full access to any and all records in regard to BramptonU which may be requested by the forensic audit team, and that participation in good faith by any employee or former employee of the City of Brampton in the investigation shall not be deemed to be a breach of any employment or post-employment agreement.
The motion passed 6-5, with Brown and his four allies in opposition.
The current status of the audit and the other investigations is in the dark, with Council unable to convene to discuss where they are at and next steps.
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Jessica Durling, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer