From the Toronto Star this morning...
Five of Brampton’s 10 councillors have said they would like Mayor Susan Fennell to make public the accounting for her private community fund and have the city hire an integrity commissioner.
“Up till now we had a pretty smooth council, but now there’s doubt. After the election I guarantee we will put into effect the policy of hiring an integrity commissioner to look into these complaints against the mayor,” said Councillor John Sprovieri.
Last year Sprovieri — along with Fennell and five other councillors — voted against revisiting the possibility of hiring an integrity commissioner. He changed his mind after a Star story about the Mayor Susan Fennell Community Fund. Fennell hosts an annual arts gala, which raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for the private fund but does not issue receipts or make public its books.
“I think she needs to open the books and clear the air,” Sprovieri said.
Mark Blumberg, a Toronto charity lawyer, said there are advantages to setting up a private fund. Unlike strict Canada Revenue Agency reporting rules for registered charities, there are few reporting requirements for unregistered non-profit organizations.
By law, registered charities can issue tax receipts to donors and must file public reports that show income and how the money is distributed. Private funds, on the other hand, face no such obligation.
Fennell has said all the net proceeds from her gala go to the organizations listed on the fund’s website and it wouldn’t make sense to have the gala registered as a charity because it is not a charity.
“But even non-registered non-profits can be as transparent as they want to be,” Blumberg said. “They can post all their fully audited statements on a website. What she (Fennell) could have done is run everything through the municipality and issued charitable receipts through the municipality.”
Which is, in effect, what Vaughan’s mayor does.
Although Linda Jackson’s annual golf tournament and fundraising gala dinners are not registered charities, the events are run by city staff with the help of a committee made up of community members.
Vaughan spokesperson Madeline Zito said all the money raised goes into a city account (there are two private bank accounts for Fennell’s events) and staff then pay the expenses and cut a cheque to the mayor’s favourite charity, the Vaughan Health Care Foundation.
The city also keeps a detailed accounting of who gave how much, something that is available on request.
“I don’t have an issue giving monies to local groups/organizations, but I think that the funds should be distributed within the calendar year of the event and the funds should remain in the city’s control and not passed to a committee of friends and family to distribute how they see fit,” Jackson said.
The seven-member board that administers the Mayor Susan Fennell Community Fund includes Fennell and three women associated with her re-election campaign team, including her campaign manager and a fundraising official.
In Mississauga, Mayor Hazel McCallion was unable to comment Tuesday to clarify the management of her various charities.
A search of the Revenue Canada website showed that the Hazel McCallion Charitable Fund, registered since 1993, has been in place with activities that include a golf tournament and dinner. Also listed as a registered charity is the Living Arts Centre Foundation.
However, there is no record of a Hazel McCallion Foundation for the Arts, Culture and Heritage on the federal website. That charity has been mentioned in the media since last year.
But even if such funds are registered, Ryerson University political science professor Duncan MacLellan says there are perception issues.
“There’s the possibility that contributions could lead to some type of political or private gain. What type of considerations are people getting if they donate large amounts of money. And if, for example, an elected official gives money that’s raised to an ethnic group, there can be the perception it’s being used to buy votes.”