Re­gion pays out $44,500 to coun­cil­lor

Le­gal ex­penses tied to in­tegrity com­mis­sioner re­ports have been re­im­bursed by the Re­gion

The Welland Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - BILL SAWCHUK AND GRANT LAFLECHE

A re­gional coun­cil­lor was paid more than $44,500 for le­gal ex­penses re­lated to in­tegrity com­mis­sioner re­ports ear­lier this year and a court case that spun out of them, Post­media has learned.

Re­gional staff de­clined to name the coun­cil­lor in ques­tion un­til the mat­ter is brought be­fore coun­cil Thurs­day night. How­ever, St. Catharines Coun. Andy Petrowski is the only coun­cil­lor sub­ject to an in­tegrity com­mis­sioner’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion who was also in­volved in a court case not cov­ered by re­gional in­sur­ance.

In May, in­terim in­tegrity com­mis­sioner John Mas­carin found Petrowski vi­o­lated coun­cil’s code of con­duct. Petrowski at­tempted to block the re­lease of Mas­carin’s re­ports by tak­ing most of re­gional coun­cil to court, claim­ing the re­ports vi­o­lated his rights un­der the Cana­dian Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms.

The courts re­jected Petrowski’s claim and ordered the coun­cil­lor pay the Re­gion’s le­gal costs.

A cor­po­rate ser­vices de­part­ment re­port, sched­uled to come be­fore coun­cil Thurs­day, says a coun­cil­lor submitted ex­penses for le­gal costs in­curred “on an in­tegrity com­mis­sioner mat­ter.”

The re­port says $44,571 has been paid to the coun­cil­lor, but does not say who au­tho­rized the pay­out.

Act­ing re­gional com­mis­sioner of en­ter­prise re­source man­age­ment Ja­son Burgess would not iden­tify which coun­cil­lor re­ceived the money, say­ing his de­part­ment is “try­ing to treat all coun­cil­lors the same.”

Burgess said he ex­pects fur­ther de­tails to be­come pub­lic dur­ing Thurs­day’s coun­cil meet­ing.

Burgess did con­firm the $44,571 was paid to a sin­gle coun­cil­lor, and that sum also in­cludes le­gal ex­penses submitted as a re­sult of a court case di­rectly re­lated to Mas­carin’s re­ports.

St. Catharines Re­gional Couns. Kelly Edgar and Brian Heit were also sub­ject to the in­tegrity com­mis­sioner com­plaints, which were dis­missed. They are also sub­ject to a law­suit cur­rently be­fore the courts. They both say they did not seek re­im­burse­ment for le­gal ex­penses from the Re­gion. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, the Re­gion’s le­gal in­sur­ance is cov­er­ing their costs in the law­suit.

The cor­po­rate ser­vices re­port also shows the Re­gion spent $124,067 on ex­ter­nal le­gal ser­vices re­lated to the in­tegrity com­mis­sioner re­ports. Burgess said the court case con­nected to the $44,571 pay­out is in­cluded in that fig­ure, but said he would not break down the spe­cific costs with­out fur­ther di­rec­tion from coun­cil.

On May 10, Mas­carin ruled against Petrowski af­ter in­ves­ti­gat­ing three code of con­duct com­plaints against the coun­cil­lor.

Two com­plaints were about his ac­tiv­ity on Twit­ter. The third was about Petrowski’s be­hav­iour at an April 25 pub­lic meet­ing in the Town of Pel­ham.

Mas­carin called Petrowski’s so­cial me­dia ac­tiv­ity puerile, dis­dain­ful, in­sult­ing, am­a­teur­ish, ridicu­lous, odi­ous.

“This is not a case of a sin­gle of­fen­sive tweet — there are six sep­a­rate in­stances of of­fen­sive tweets be­ing sent out by the coun­cil­lor,” Mas­carin wrote in one of three re­ports. “What the tweets are not is thought­ful or il­lu­mi­nat­ing or en­light­en­ing or hu­man­iz­ing. The coun­cil­lor’s tweets do not at­tempt to el­e­vate the level of dis­course on the is­sues they pur­port to raise in any way — they merely seek to in­cite and pro­voke.”

On Mas­carin’s rec­om­men­da­tion, coun­cil voted to de­mand an apol­ogy from Petrowski.

Coun­cil also voted to re­move Petrowski from his com­mit­tee posts un­til he takes sen­si­tiv­ity train­ing.

The day be­fore Mas­carin re­leased his re­ports, Petrowski sought a tem­po­rary in­junc­tion un­der the char­ter to stall their pub­li­ca­tion. Petrowski, who rep­re­sented him­self in court, named 24 of the 31 re­gional coun­cil­lors as re­spon­dents in his suit.

Jus­tice David Ed­wards tossed out Petrowski’s case and awarded the Re­gion court costs. Petrowski and Fort Erie res­i­dent Fred Bracken, who joined Petrowski in seek­ing the in­junc­tions, have to pay $5,500.

Petrowski was go­ing to re­spond to the de­mand that he apol­o­gize af­ter the re­ports were re­leased, but then he took a per­sonal leave of ab­sence af­ter he sent out a porno­graphic im­age from his Re­gional email ac­count. In July he called the re­quire­ment for sen­si­tiv­ity train­ing “a joke” and told CKTB 610 AM that he will not aplo­gize to coun­cil.

The pay­ment of $44,571 in le­gal ex­penses to a coun­cil­lor comes as the Re­gion is un­der fire for how it han­dles coun­cil­lor ex­penses.

Ear­lier this month The Stan­dard learned tax­pay­ers were cov­er­ing Fort Erie Re­gional Coun. Sandy An­nun­zi­ata’s trips to Toronto to ap­pear on a ra­dio talk show three or four times a month. He claimed $4,100 in travel ex­penses to the show in 2015 and con­tin­ues to be a reg­u­lar guest.

Al­though the ap­pear­ances are not of­fi­cial coun­cil busi­ness, An­nun­zi­ata main­tains he uses the talk show “to pro­mote Ni­a­gara and the Town of Fort Erie.”

Re­gional Chair Alan Caslin de­clined to dis­cuss An­nun­zi­ata’s ex­penses, say­ing he could not com­ment in the ab­sence of a pol­icy gov­ern­ing coun­cil­lor ex­penses.

For­mer re­gional chair Debbie Zim­mer­man said she wres­tled with coun­cil­lor ex­penses dur­ing her term as head of coun­cil and kept a close eye on them.

“From time to time, things would be high­lighted that were un­usual,” she said. “It was clear. There was no de­bate. If there was any un­cer­tainty around a claimed ex­pense, we would re­view it. The fi­nance com­mit­tee would go through the ex­penses.“

Zim­mer­man said how coun­cil man­ages ex­penses di­rectly re­lates to how it is per­ceived by the pub­lic it serves.

“Re­gional gov­ern­ment has never been thought of very fondly by tax­pay­ers. The only way to move the agenda for­ward is if peo­ple have faith in the things you were do­ing. The last thing you want is to have your gov­ern­ment crip­pled,” she said. “This coun­cil has been crip­pled by con­stant code of con­duct is­sues and now ex­penses. That’s not how you get busi­ness done. That’s not how you build con­fi­dence in the busi­ness com­mu­nity.”

Ni­a­gara-on-the-Lake Coun. Gary Bur­roughs, who served as chair be­fore Caslin, said coun­cil tried and failed to get a han­dle on ex­penses in the past.

“Dur­ing my time, I wasn’t con­cerned with the kind of thing An­nun­zi­ata has been play­ing with, but with go­ing to con­fer­ences. Some peo­ple were up­grad­ing their tick­ets and charg­ing the Re­gion,” he said. “I had a re­port pre­pared. It went to au­dit com­mit­tee, but it died at au­dit com­mit­tee.”

Bur­roughs said in the past some coun­cil­lors were us­ing their mileage ex­penses to pad their pay cheques.

“There were peo­ple driv­ing to Ot­tawa for con­fer­ences be­cause they made more money than if they flew. Then they would bill for park­ing,” he said. “Those were the kinds of things on which we needed some pol­icy. It should be the least ex­pen­sive method of get­ting to wher­ever you were go­ing.”

The Stan­dard has re­quested a month-by-month break down of coun­cil­lor ex­penses from the Re­gion for this term of coun­cil as part of an ex­am­i­na­tion of how coun­cil is spend­ing pub­lic dol­lars. The Re­gion says it is work­ing on the re­quest.

Mul­ti­ple mes­sages left with Petrowski and Caslin went unan­swered Wed­nes­day. glafleche@post­media.com bsawchuk@post­media.com Twit­ter: @grantrants @bil­l_S­tan­dard

Petrowski

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