Friday, January 15, 2016

The Mayor’s View by Bill French

             Happy New Year!

2016 will be an interesting and most likely an eventful year for the Township of Springwater.

Strategic Plan
Springwater Council, Senior Staff and some key stakeholders participated in a number of sessions in the last half of 2015 to develop a strategic plan for the township. It will be launched during the current term and will set a clear direction for the future. Unlike previous exercises, we developed this plan from the ground up. It builds on the past but looks clearly into the future. I think you will be pleased when it is released by the end of the first quarter. A clear Vision and Mission has been identified and I am excited to see the plan implemented to the benefit of all in Springwater. Stay tuned. These are positive times for Springwater.

The 2016 budget will be tabled for approval on January 20th and I expect it to be approved by Council. Our senior management took Council and Stakeholder input from the working sessions, made some adjustments and have returned with a quite impressive and well detailed plan to retain service levels, make improvements where necessary and control expenditures. I can assure you everyone is cognizant of the use of your tax dollars. The budget also includes a long term plan to set aside and build an Infrastructure Replacement Fund. This is in addition to our normal reserve funds. I think you will be pleased with the final results of the budget.

Report Card
By the end of February, we will be releasing an Annual Report on the activities of the Council for 2015. When we started reflecting on what was done in such a short time, and considering it was mainly a new and inexperienced Council, the accomplishments were noticeable. Special appreciation goes to our experienced Councillors, Hanna, Ritchie and McConkey for giving us newbies some needed guidance. Even though we don’t agree on many things, we work well together and so far so good. You, the ratepayer, seem to be the paramount focus of all of Council as both individuals and as a group. That is the way it should work.

We have had many positive comments on our webcasting of our Council and Special meetings. It is a simple thing to do with today’s technology but allows our constituents to keep abreast of the fast moving changes in Springwater. I found it interesting that one viewer commented what a pleasure it was to watch the budget discussions last week. I really do want to know what she was sipping from that glass! But we do appreciate the comments and feedback. I encourage you to send me an email in advance of our meetings with your own questions for the Council Meeting Question Period. Those in attendance will of course be given first priority to ask questions but if we have no questions from the floor, I would be quite pleased to table your email questions during question period. Our Town Hall Meetings went well last year and we will continue that effort this year. We want your feedback in whatever fashion is best for you!

Special Recognition – Mike Guilbault

I would be remiss if I did not mention the special recognition that Elmvale’s Mike Guilbault received from the Master Photographers International Organization. He was named a Master Photographer of Fine Art. Congratulations Mike! We are quite proud of your accomplishment.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Election Compliance Audit Update – "It Gets Crazier by the Day" December 2015

The article that follows this introduction was the last in a series of Three updates I wrote on my election compliance audit. I do thank the many people that have contacted me since a critical article appeared in Springwater News. You can also call me at 705-718-7031 to discuss the matter. 

Election Compliance Audit Update – "It Gets Crazier by the Day"
I am totally flabbergasted at how a simple request for an Election Compliance Audit of my 2014 Election Expenses has taken on a life of its own and is now out of control. I understand people being vindictive and petty minded, but this is beyond comprehension.

I have decided with advice from my solicitor Renatta Austin that I will not participate in a second audit of my 2014 election campaign finances without an order from a court directing me to do so.

When my solicitor informed the Township Clerk and copied the new forensic audit firm of my decision not to participate, I received an email from the new audit firm threatening a summons to appear before them if I did not agree to participate. They confirmed in the email that the Compliance Audit Committee has approved the cost of their legal representation to chase me. With no other options before me and based on the advice of my solicitor, I have launched an application to the Divisional Court to deal with the matter and challenge what has been done.

For those that may not be aware of this sad and expensive saga, here it is.

At its meeting on July 20, 2015, the Compliance Audit Committee in a 2 to 1 decision accepted the application of Dan McLean, defeated Deputy Mayor in the 2014 municipal election, to review my 2014 election campaign finances and subsequently appointed Grant Thornton LLP to conduct the audit. I acknowledged my intention to cooperate with the audit in an engagement letter from Grant Thornton to the Township of Springwater dated September 2, 2015, and I fully cooperated with the auditor and provided access to everything they requested.  The auditor reported to the Committee on September 25, 2015.

Grant Thornton LLP was selected by the Compliance Audit Committee and is a well-qualified firm and when questioned by my solicitor on Oct 23rd confirmed they have conducted other Compliance Audits. This was not a new exercise or area of expertise for them. Their audit was complete and aside from some compliance issues that were noted in the Grant Thornton Audit Report, it mirrored the audit that had been conducted by Smith Lassaline from Barrie. Even with the variances my election expenditures were still about $5,000 under the spending limit.

The Committee was required to consider the auditor’s report within 30 days of receiving it and to make a decision to either commence legal proceedings against me if the report concluded that there were apparent contraventions of the Act, or to make a finding as to whether there were reasonable grounds for the application if no contraventions were found. According to my legal opinion, the Committee had no authority to reject the auditor’s report and request a new audit.

My solicitor also informs me that the Committee’s decision to adjourn the proceedings on October 23rd was beyond the authority granted to it under section 81 of the Municipal Elections Act. Its decision to reject an audit that was favourable to me and to appoint a second auditor without any authority to do so is tantamount to audit shopping and it is contrary to the basic rules of natural justice and procedural fairness. As is reflected in the recording of the proceedings on October 23rd, through my lawyer, I objected to the adjournment on these grounds.

The Committee has now exceeded its 30-day time limit to consider the auditor’s report and to make a decision. I will not participate in any further audits or Committee meetings with respect to my 2014 election campaign finances without direction from a court. In the absence of a court order, I will consider the matter closed.

It was confirmed by the Clerk at a recent Council meeting that the Grant Thornton audit was $13,000. I estimate the cost of a second audit to be double that since it is now a forensic audit, plus legal fees. Just for the record I am responsible to pay my own legal fees and they are mounting and now into the 5 figures. Don’t be surprised if this circus will go into the stratosphere in dollars spent by the time it is over. I hope someone files a Freedom of Information Request to find out how much money was spent by the Township to simply embarrass and harass the Mayor you elected. As the saying goes, it may be worthwhile to “follow the money”.

In closing, I publicly offer the following resolution to this mess. I ask that the Compliance Audit Committee do the honourable thing. I ask that they reconvene the meeting of Oct 23, accept the audit report from Grant Thornton (which was completed according to the letter of engagement) and then pass a motion to take no further action. That would end this unfortunate situation and stop the mounting and unnecessary legal costs for both the Township and me. I, for my part, will agree to take no action against the Township as I would prefer to focus on the job that you elected me to do. It is a sensible solution to stop the merry-go-round.

Compliance Audit Update in November of 2015

I am publishing these articles as there is  small  group of politically motivated individuals who would like to intimidate me to the point I will get fed up and either backoff  my election promises or resign. This was article Two of the series of Three articles.

The Compliance Audit Committee reconvened on October 23 to consider two matters according to the legislation.
“In accordance with Section 81(14), the Compliance Audit Committee may consider the following:
 (a) if the report concludes that the candidate appears to have contravened a provision of this Act relating to election campaign finances, commence a legal proceeding against the candidate for the apparent contravention;
(b) if the report concludes that the candidate does not appear to have contravened a provision of this Act relating to election campaign finances, make a finding as to whether there were reasonable grounds for the application. 2009, c. 33, Sched. 21, s. 8 (44).”

That is what I expected to happen, but it didn’t. To my surprised solicitor Jack Siegel acting for McLean the applicant, challenged the competence and the completeness of the audit and the engagement letter. Grant Thornton LLP is a well qualified firm and when questioned by my solicitor confirmed they have conducted other Compliance Audits. This was not a new exercise or area of expertise for them. Their audit was complete and aside from some minor compliance issues that I noted in my last article and were noted in the Grant Thornton Audit Report, it mirrored the audit that had been conducted by Smith Lassaline from Barrie.

Even though my solicitor Renatta Austin, a close associate of well know lawyer Peter Rosenthal, repeated a number of times that the only purpose of the October 23rd meeting was to consider the matters above, the committee seemed swayed and questioned the Grant Thornton LLP Letter of Engagement and the Compliance Audit Report itself. The Committee has asked for a new firm by issuing an RFP and also requesting a forensic audit, which is not required by legislation. Just so you know, you are paying for these audits, as it is a Township responsibility. The Committee will reconvene within 20 days and appoint another auditor. If you are counting, that will be three audits of my election expenses. Remember, I am still well under my spending limit by close to 25% after two audits.

What is my thinking on the matter? I believe certain parties intend to cause me financial harm by various legal delay tactics. They are hoping I will roll over and play dead and in frustration resign as Mayor. That is not going to happen. I and my team worked far too hard to allow Springwater to finally be governed by people with them first in mind. I do not respond well to intimidation and have seen this type of clever legal maneuvering many times in my career. With the support of many in Springwater, I will be around when this nonsense is over and hopefully some others will be held accountable for this ill-conceived attempt at attacking my character and reputation, causing unnecessary stress on my wife and family along with my pocket book. A number of people who are appalled at this three ring circus are asking how they can help. I am thinking about that. This is all about democracy, not my election expenses. Most of the electorate chose me to be your Mayor and I plan to honour that trust.

In closing, I thank the many supporters that attended the committee meeting on October 23 and have phoned me with their words of support. It is much appreciated.

August Comments on The Compliance Audit of Bill French Election Expenses

My thoughts and comments on the Election Compliance Audit-by Bill French

I am publishing these articles as there is  small  group of politically motivated individuals who would like to intimidate me to the point I will get fed up and either backoff  my election promises or resign. This was article One of the series of Three Articles.

I had no intention of making any comment on this matter until the entire matter is resolved, but a few people have encouraged me to provide my perspective on Dan McLean’s application for a Compliance Audit of my Election Expenses. As a point of interest my election expenses were audited by an independent local firm Smith and Lassaline of Barrie. I was under the eligible spending limit by $5,000 as a point of interest or stated in another way spent about 75% of the allowable limit.
For those that were present on July 20th and 21st, the Elections Compliance Audit Committee, in a 2 to 1 decision, has approved a request for an independent audit of my already audited election expenses. I don’t mind the decision but it appears that some on the committee missed an important point of law that was actually submitted by Jack B. Siegel, the high profile solicitor for Dan McLean, defeated Deputy Mayor in the 2014 Municipal Election. To quote from the Lyras V. Heaps case that Siegel referenced, the judge of the Ontario Court of Justice hearing stated “In my view, where the statute requires, ‘a belief on reasonable grounds’, the jurisprudence applicable in other contexts indicates that the standard to be applied is that of an objective belief based on compelling and credible information which raises the ‘reasonable probability’ of a breach of the statute”. Mr. McLean provided no compelling or credible information, as all members of the committee agreed, but presented a number of suppositions that could not be substantiated with any hard evidence. As committee member QC Robert Barlow rightly stated in his dissenting vote “Conjecture, again is not acceptable to me in a matter of this nature” and concluded with a statement based on various cases he referenced throughout his decision, “In the end result, considering the documents, evidence and submissions of the parties and of the facts and on the law provided, I find that a contravention of section 81.1 of the Municipal Elections Act has not been proven by the Applicant (McLean) and I reject the application.”
The committee has appointed the firm of Grant Thorton LLP to conduct the audit.
I look forward to the outcome and will make more detailed comments at that time, as there are a number of other unusual circumstances that need to be brought to the public eye that relate to this matter.

Stay tuned!

Merry Christmas - The Mayor’s View by Bill French

“It is the Season” as the saying goes.
Springwater with its many unique communities have fantastic celebrations for their local neighborhoods. Even though we have a lot of important things going on which I could address, I want take this opportunity to address some of the celebrations of this month.

Elmvale’s Annual Tree lighting was great event with entertainment provided by Betty Holiday, our local entertainer. With great weather the Gateway Park was crammed to its limits. The BIA made this event a reality and with the continued commitment by Doug Kirton and friends, the tree this year was spectacular. The Minty family donated a new star to top off the tree. The annual Elmvale Santa Claus parade saw the streets jam packed with spectators with hundreds of children bursting with excitement to get their first glimpse of Santa this year. A special thanks goes out to all those that made this annual celebration just a little better than the year before.

Hillsdale hosted its first annual Christmas tree lighting and the residents responded with a full house in the recently refurbished Community Centre, a great pride and achievement by the many volunteers that pitched in. Santa also popped by because he heard the people singing, “Here comes Santa Claus”, so he decided to surprise them.

Anten Mills
Anten Mills had a well-attended Tree lighting ceremony with carol singing and a magician entertaining the young and old. It was followed by a spectacular fireworks display and Santa dropped by compliments of transportation by Springwater Fire department as his sleigh broke down on one of his test runs. Apparently he was getting a faulty reading from the sleigh’s Clausometer but Santa says it will be ready to roll by December 24th. One of the most unique and fun Santa Claus Parades is the one in Anten Mills. With about a dozen floats created by the various neighborhoods in Anten Mills, it was fun and extremely entertaining. You must see it to understand what a tight and creative community exists in Anten Mills.

Minesing’s Holiday celebration was another star studded event with, tree lighting, craft and Christmas gift displays, arts and crafts for the kids, great hot chocolate and pizza and amazing face painting for the children. Swampy, the Minesing mascot, came out of hibernation for the event. He said it was pretty warm in the swamp and heard the carol singing, so he thought he would come and have a gander. Swampy posed for pictures with Santa and was checking who was naughty and nice. I pointed out a couple of naughty ones.

These community celebrations are the life blood of Springwater. These events only happen because of the dedication of those in the community that serve on the local hall boards. We always need new faces and hands and voices. Springwater is alive, vibrant and continues to be the preferred place to Live, Work and Play in Simcoe County because of our local community pride. It can be found in Elmvale, Hillsdale, Orr Lake, Fergusonvale, Phelpston, Anten Mills, Midhurst, Snow Valley, Centre Vespra and surrounding smaller communities. All of us make this possible. Let us all commit to do a little more for our local community in the new year. Even committing one hour a week or month will make a big difference and lighten the load for someone else.

On behalf of my very special spouse Lorraine, my 5 children, my 11 grandchildren, I offer my sincere wishes and God’s Blessing on all of you for making this year so special.

Merry Christmas and Wishing you a Prosperous 2016 New Year.