Region to restrict councillor phones
With Niagara Region under increased scrutiny over councillor expenses, the Region is limiting how councillors can use their cell phones, The Standard has learned.
In an email circulated to councillors, regional clerk Laura Bubanko says the roaming feature on region smartphones and iPads will be “restricted.”
“Further to the Chair’s email below and attachment regarding Smartphones and iPads, which indicated that IT would be restricting the data roaming feature to prevent unexpected charges, please note that IT will be carrying out this restriction effective Monday, September 18, 2017,” says the email obtained by The Standard.
Last week, The Standard requested cell phone bills, including roaming charges, for all councillors for this term of government. Regional staff say they are working on the request, along with the Standard’s request for all councillor expenses on a month-by-month basis.
The cell phone restriction follows reports by The Standard on councillor expenses.
The Standard reported Wednesday that St. Catharines regional Coun. Andy Petrowski filed for and was reimbursed more than $44,500 in legal expenses related to integrity commissioner investigations into his conduct and a failed legal attempt to block the release of the commissioner’s reports.
The former interim integrity commissioner John Mascarin found Petrowski violated council’s code of conduct in three investigations — two regarding his tweets and one regarding his conduct at a public meeting.
The day before Mascarin’s reports were to be made public, Petrowski attempted to get an injunction to block their release. Claiming the reports violated his rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Petrowski filed suit against 24 of the 31 regional councillors.
A judge threw the case out and Petrowski, who represented himself in court, was ordered to pay $5,500 in expenses alongside Fort Erie resident Fred Bracken who joined him in the suit.
On Wednesday, The Standard learned the Region had approved $44,571 in legal expenses tied to the integrity commissioner reports. Although the report did not name Petrowski, his integrity commissioner files and court case were the only ones that could be have been connected to the payout.
On Thursday, Petrowski confirmed on CKTB 610 AM that the payout was made to him and said he was “open and transparent” in submitting legal expenses.
Petrowski has not responded to multiple requests for an interview by The Standard. He has not answered several emailed questions from The Standard on the issue, including a query about who his lawyer was, given that he represented himself in court.
The payout was not the first councillor expense issue to make the news.
Earlier this month, The Standard learned that Fort Erie Coun. Sandy Annunziata has been billing the public for regular trips to Toronto to appear on a talk-radio program.
He received $4,100 in 2015 in expenses for the trips and has been a regular guest on the show in 2016 and 2017. Although his appearances are not official regional business, Annunziata told The Standard he can expense them because he promotes Niagara every chance he gets.
Regional chairman Alan Caslin did not respond to requests for an interview about the Petrowski payout Wednesday.