Clerk’s Office apparently revised election spending record without due notice or notation; a 'shocking, lack of oversight'.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

August 12th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

Elections are the way the public gets to choose who will lead them – who will make the critical decisions; who will determine the tax rate.

Money plays a large part in how those men and women get elected.
In the October municipal election a lot of money was raised, from a surprisingly low number of people.

Who they were and who they donated to is of public interest.

Provincial legislation requires the City Clerk to not only administer the election but also to sign the documents that declare who the winner is and receive reports on who spent what.

When that data became available two Burlington residents who concern themselves with civic affairs began to pour over the campaign contribution reports that were filed with the Clerk and the document the Clerk provided to city council.

Election 2018That is when the two, Blair Smith and Lynn Crosby begin to find that some of the numbers just didn’t add up. Donations they knew for a fact were given were not recorded and there were numerous and quite obvious errors.

When questioned by the Gazette, they explained;

“We have been looking very carefully at the financial statements of all candidates for council for the Burlington 2018 election. One of the things we noticed was that the audit committee received a report from the Clerk on June 4, with an Appendix of all contributions over $100 for all candidates.

We immediately saw that this list seemed much too small and could see that there was a lot missing. We then went through all the candidate financial statements posted on the City website, created our own list and then compared the two. They were not a close match. We know that errors do occur and that our analysis is only as accurate as our source data, in this case the candidates’ audited financial statements.”

The two put together a letter to the City Manager, the Mayor, Council and the Clerk setting out their concerns.

In their July 30th email they said:

“Under the Municipal Elections Act, the duties and responsibilities of the Clerk are summarized as:
(a) preparing for the election;

(b) preparing for and conducting a recount in the election;

(c) maintaining peace and order in connection with the election; and

(d) in a regular election, preparing and submitting the report described in subsection 12.1 (2). 1996,

c. 32, Sched., s. 11 (2); 2009, c. 33, Sched. 21, s. 8 (7).

We believe that the Clerk is the critical steward of the most fundamental of our democratic processes, the election of our municipal representatives, and that such responsibilities should be discharged with care, diligence, lack of bias and a regard for maintaining an accurate public record.
As such, we were surprised by the 2018 Municipal Election report listing Campaign Contributions that was submitted by the Clerk to the Compliance Audit Committee on June 4, 2019. A quick review of the document posted on the City website revealed that there were numerous omissions and inaccuracies.

In fact, the record is both incomplete and misleading. We are unaware of any competing or undisclosed policy that informed the structure of the record as presented and would appreciate learning if such is the case. Otherwise, we note the following that we consider to be serious flaws in the record, requiring explanation and correction.

1. The total amount of contributions on the Clerk’s Report adds up to $313,588.52. On page 11, there is a line that simply says “Supplementary List”, $3,950. Adding that undocumented amount in, the total would be $317,538.52. In our review of all candidates’ financial statements, our total is $550,134. (Note our total includes a few donations that were returned, which may not be required to be included).

2. The entire list of Mayor Meed Ward’s contributions is missing.

3. Several of Ward 2 councillor candidate Roland Tanner’s contributions are missing. (Maria Adcock, $1200; Karina Gould, $200; Robert Loney, $250; Ed McMahon, $200; Jack O’Brien, $500).

4. One of Ward 2 councillor candidate Kimberly Calderbank’s contributions is missing (Mark McCrory, $400), as is one of Ward 3 candidate Gareth Williams (Collin Gibbons, $200).

5. Both of Ward 6 councillor candidate Xin-Yi Zhang’s contributions are missing as are the lone contributions of Ken White, Tayler Morin and Greg Woodruff.

6. None of the mayoral or councillor candidates’ own or spousal contributions are included.

7. Several first names are missing, even though they appear on the relevant candidate Forms.

8. Some names are transposed and therefore do not appear correctly and wouldn’t be easily found. For example, the second name should read Abdelaziz Guergachi, not the reverse. In that same entry there is another random name there also, Leila Tijini. Why?

9. In some cases there appear to be double entries which are there in error because they only appear once on all candidate forms, or cases where entries appear three times when they should appear twice. (E,g., Lynn and Chris Anstead, $200; Doug Brown, $200; Nick and Diane Leblovic, $250; Edda Manley, $300; David and Linda McKay, $200; John and Bonnie Purkis, $300; Mary Woodward $1,000; Stephen Woodward, $1,000).

10. Some names are spelled incorrectly, though we note Rick Goldring’s list of names and amounts is in some cases practically illegible.

11. Entry for Schuler should say “Michael” as first name and the amount shows $700. $200 was returned so this should say $500.

12. Looking at the candidate forms, there are errors that we would have thought should have been flagged by the Clerk to be corrected. Perhaps this is not the Clerk’s purview and it is instead up to citizens to look at the documents and raise these things instead. If so, that seems like a flawed system. In any event, such things include: no dates of contributions received are listed (as required) on any of Mike Wallace’s contributions; post office boxes being listed as addresses where Full Addresses are required; the very illegible form submitted by Rick Goldring as noted above.

We believe that these errors are serious enough that the record, as presented, does not provide an accurate and true picture of the 2018 Campaign financials. As such the public record, in this instance at least, is too flawed to remain uncorrected. We would request that either you provide an explanation of why the statements presented to the Compliance Audit Committee are accurate, addressing the deficiencies noted above, or correct the record and resubmit noting publicly the reason for the resubmission.”

Crosby and Smith got a response from the City Manager, Tim Commisso, almost immediately. He referred the matter to the City Clerk. The Mayor also provided a quick response supporting the need for an investigation and correction if required. The City Clerk, Angela Morgan, replied to Smith and Crosby on July 31st indicating that their concerns would be reviewed. Then, on August 6th, she made a more fulsome reply:

City Clerk Angela Morgan fails to ensure media alerted to Special Council meeting. Her communications people dropped the ball as well.

City Clerk Angela Morgan going over the results of the 2010 election.

“Lynn and Blair, thank you for your e-mail and detailed review of the candidate financial document attached to the Clerks report that was considered by the Election Compliance Audit committee on June 4. The Municipal Elections Act requires the Clerk to prepare a report for the election compliance audit committee, this report is limited to reporting on contributors who contributed more that $1200 to any one candidate or more than $5000 to all of the candidates for Council.

“To prepare the report, I reviewed all of the candidates financials individually and highlighted those that had over-contributed, this information was included in individual reports to the committee which were included on the agenda for the June 4th meeting (which can be found at) https://calendar.burlington.ca/Event/Index/aaba4276-79ae-4619-9ffb-aa5c00bd7ec1.

“Following that review, staff combined the lists into one large list to present to the Committee as information. This was done through copy and paste from the candidates lists and therefore, any spelling of names is identical to the spelling on the candidates paperwork. In reviewing the attached listing, I did note that the list of contributors to Mayor Meed Ward’s campaign was not included in the final list although it was reviewed by myself in preparing the report on over contributions noted above. In addition, contributors are listed multiple times on the list because they contributed to more than one campaign, so they are listed each time they were found to have contributed (i.e. if they contributed to 4 campaigns, they would be listed 4 times), in some instances, it is the same contribution amount. The list does not include the amount that an individual candidate or their spouse contributed to their own campaign as this is outside the scope of my review.

“We have reposted an amended list to reflect the contributions that were missed from the original posting. This did not affect the overall conclusion in my report which indicated that 2 contributors, contributed more than $5000.

“This review is a new provision in the Municipal Elections Act and as a result, this is first time this list was prepared. We are learning from this election and will be making some improvements in 2022 to ensure the report and its attachments are completed in a more user friendly manner. Thank you again for your comments.”

Smith and Crosby were not satisfied with the response they were given and responded to the Clerk on August 7th:

“Thank you for your response yesterday to our email of Tuesday, July 30th. It helps to explain some of the anomalies that we noted in the material presented to the Compliance Audit Committee on June 4th but, unfortunately, not all. It also raises a rather serious new issue.

angela-morgan

Angela Morgan, City Clerk 2018

We understand the duties of Clerk, as specified under the Municipal Elections Act, are only to produce a report of contributors who were in violation – and there were only two (2) by your reckoning. It is somewhat confusing then that the Appendix to the report presented to the Compliance Audit Committee was so extensive going to 11 pages and including contributors who were completely ‘out of scope’. If the intent was to provide a complete and comprehensive picture of all contributions made during the campaign, the numerous errors and omissions that we noted undermined that purpose. The list has now been changed consistent with some of the corrections and additions that we suggested were needed. However, it is still inaccurate. For example, the following errors, omissions and oversights still remain:

• though Mayor Meed Ward’s entries are now included, there are still about five missing, and some of the dollar amounts are incorrect

• there are still a few names transposed (these names are not transposed on the candidate forms)

• there are still 8 instances of missing first names, all of which do appear on the candidate forms

• the entries we noted that were missing from Kimberly Calderbank’s and Gareth William’s forms are still missing

• we understand some people donated multiple times and their names should appear more than once; however, there are eight entrees that seem to be doubled in error

• though the missing Roland Tanner entries have now been added, Karina Gould was incorrectly listed as Maria Gould and Robert Loney’s surname is misspelled

• there are several names misspelled and contrary to your explanation, they are not misspelled on the candidate forms (again with the caveat that Rick Goldring’s form is almost illegible); we are referring to names from other candidate forms

Wallace Form 1 sample

Sample of the form required to be completed.

• how can one be certain the Mike Wallace contributions were donated in the proper time frame (May 1 – December 31) when he did not include any dates as required? Is this not a rather serious contravention?

The corrected list is now available on the City website – https://calendar.burlington.ca/Event/Index/aaba4276-79ae-4619-9ffb-aa5c00bd7ec1

Wallace no date data

The form the Wallace auditors submitted: There are no dates shown.

However, it is included as a part of the original agenda package of the June 4th meeting of the Compliance Audit Committee. As such, it gives the impression that it is the list originally presented and approved by that committee. It is not. So, the public record has been altered with no indication that such is the case and that the report that was actually approved by the Compliance Audit Committee is not the report that is presented on the City Website.

We believe that this is tantamount to altering the public record after the fact and is a serious contravention of appropriate information protocols. We believe that the amended report should be resubmitted for approval. Indeed, one should never be able to unilaterally change the public record.

There should always be some form of independent approval and notification process. What was the approval and notification process involved here and was Council aware? Additionally, there must be some indication that this is not the original report approved by the Committee and the reasons for the re submission and re posting. If you recall, we had requested that the report be resubmitted with the reason for the re submission clearly stated. Such has not occurred and this is unsatisfactory.

You say “This review is a new provision in the Municipal Elections Act and as a result, this is first time this list was prepared. We are learning from this election and will be making some improvements in 2022 to ensure the report and its attachments are completed in a more user friendly manner.”

Smith and Crosby

Lynn Crosby and Blair Smith, both Burlington residents with a passion for open and transparent civic government. Crosby was trained as a para-legal; Smith served as an Assistant Deputy Minister wit the Ontario government.,

Our request had nothing to do with “user-friendliness” and everything to do with accuracy and data integrity. Both were lacking. We remain concerned with the apparent absence of due diligence and appropriate oversight. It is also, perhaps, a happy coincidence that your report of donation violations was accurate despite the absence of the Mayor’s donors; in part a function of the fact that Mayor Meed Ward, unlike the other candidates, would not accept donations from individuals associated with the development industry. Regardless, the original errors of accuracy and oversight now pale in comparison with the apparent ability of the Clerk’s Office to alter the public record without notice or notation.

We would appreciate an adjustment to the public record clearly stating that the list, as published on the City website as part of the agenda package, is a corrected one, not the original version. Attached for comparison are the original and amended versions of the list.
… Lynn Crosby and Blair Smith”

As of the time of publication, we are advised that there has been no response from the City Clerk. However, the Mayor responded with clear direction, indicating that she recognized the need to maintain the integrity of the public record, that the existing record should be annotated to note that is has been amended, that all amendments should be appropriately marked and that any further corrections needed to the record should be so noted.

For Crosby and Smith the fundamental issues remain. They explained;

“We are concerned with the competence and integrity of the Clerk’s Office. People will probably think that we are “stirring the pot” or nit-picking but, perhaps, they don’t truly understand the role of the Municipal Clerk and its importance. Arguably, the Clerk is the most important link between the provincial bureaucracy and that of the city or town. Not the most important official or the most influential bureaucrat but the most essential and integral connection between the two levels of governance.

“Amongst many other roles, the Clerk is the official records-keeper of the municipality with a duty under the Municipal Act “to record, without note or comment, all resolutions, decisions and other proceedings of the council”. So, errors in this duty are serious and have impact. The appendix that was originally submitted as part of the agenda package for the Compliance Audit Committee on June 4th was seriously flawed. The number and nature of the errors was shocking, as was the obvious lack of oversight.

“The fact that the appendix was not a statutory “requirement” does not mitigate the issue. More serious, however, is the fact that the Clerk’s Office has now apparently revised the public record without due notice or notation. Quite simply, this is a completely unacceptable contravention of information practice and protocol, particularly for one entrusted with maintaining the integrity of the official record. The public record must always be historically and contemporaneously accurate. It reflects the information material that elected officials used at the time to make decisions affecting all citizens and interested parties. How else can those officials be held accountable? If allowed to present an amended record as if original then the Clerk’s Office has been permitted to ‘change history’ and give a different picture of the decision-making process than actually occurred.

“If this is acceptable information policy and practice within the City of Burlington, then it needs to be changed immediately. And perhaps we need to look at what else is accepted practice that contravenes the tenets of open, transparent and accountable government.”

OPINION: Salt with Pepper

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