Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Brampton Councillors looking for disclosure

From the Toronto Star this morning...

Brampton councillors call on mayor for disclosure
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.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Corruption in Brampton? Time for a change...

The Toronto Star broke a story this morning that Brampton's current mayor, Susan Fennel, has been up to shenanigans..  Should she change her name to "Funnel"? 

Brampton Mayor's private "community fund" not registered
For five years, Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from the community for a fund in her name that isn’t registered as a charity, doesn’t issue receipts and has never opened its books to the public.
The fund’s main event is an annual arts gala and its website suggests that since 2006 it has raised between $150,000 and $250,000 each year, proceeds that “are directed to numerous groups in the community who self identify and request assistance.”
At least two Brampton city councillors have expressed concern that they cannot find out exactly how much has been raised and where the money has gone. One donor stopped giving this year because of what he called a lack of transparency.
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 an interview with the Star, Fennell said all the net proceeds from the gala go to the organizations listed on the fund’s website. Calls to a sampling of the groups, ranging from schools to an art gallery, brought a mixed response, with some grateful for the support and others saying they received no money.
Fennell said it wouldn’t make sense to have the gala registered as a charity.
“People come for dinner, they come and buy a ticket to be present at the mayor’s gala. It’s not a charity, it’s a dinner, it’s a function, it’s an event. So, that’s what it is. It’s not a charity,” she said.
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.
Though it can’t offer a tax write-off, the gala draws many of the city’s high flyers. The sponsors are a who’s who of development companies.
One developer, John Cutruzzola, president of the Inzola Group, gave thousands of dollars in past years despite receiving no charitable receipt. He said the mayor solicited him for money.
“The developer is put on the spot,” Cutruzzola said. “He can’t afford to say no to someone who has influence over what he wants or what he needs.”
That the fund isn’t a registered charity is “just stupid,” said Bob Callahan, councillor for wards 3 and 4. “How can they even write a receipt, and how do we know they are reporting interest income to Revenue Canada? This is why I voted for bringing in an integrity commissioner, but the mayor voted it down.”
Asked why the books haven’t been disclosed publicly, Fennell replied: “Members of the public, who are the board, certainly have that in place and they review this with full audited statements. The books are open to the members of the public — leading citizens who sit on my board.”
The mayor declined to give the Star a chance to review the records independently, saying, “I am satisfied with the oversight of the members who sit and give direction on how the disbursements and how this fund should operate.” Later she added that there are “privacy issues associated with who gives and where the money goes.”
The board members listed on the gala’s website in addition to Fennell are:
• Dorothy Wood, the mayor’s neighbour, who has cheque-writing authorization for the fund and handles finances for the mayor’s re-election campaign.
• Bev Adcock, the mayor’s former administrative assistant, who is now her re-election campaign manager.
• Heather Picken, a Brampton development lawyer, who is listed on a Facebook site for Fennell’s re-election as co-chair of fundraising;
• Jennifer Evans, Peel deputy police chief.
• Sharon Hermes, winner of a 2008 citizen of the year award.
• Doug Munro, a business owner.
Board members either did not respond to the Star or directed all questions to Picken, who confirmed by email that the fund is not a charity and the books are not made public.
After Fennell spoke to the Star, Adcock confirmed Wood handles accounts for the Fennell re-election campaign. However, she said Picken has nothing to do with fundraising for the campaign.
Fennell has served three terms as Brampton mayor and was elected with 75 per cent of the vote in 2006. She raised $190,000 for her last campaign, 55 per cent of which came from the development industry. She faces four rivals this election.
Cutruzzola, of the Inzola Group, stopped donating to Fennell’s gala this year.
“I usually gave $5,000 for one table,” Cutruzzola said. “One year I was a sponsor (of the gala) for $25,000. We bought one foursome every year (at a separate golf tournament organized by Fennell), except this year. I didn’t buy nothing this year. I want to know where the money’s going.”
Fennell made it clear she doesn’t have signing authority on the accounts, nor does she direct where the funds go.
“We specifically have a community board of directors of citizens in this community who oversee and approve the disbursement of the funds, because I don’t want to be the person pointing where the funds go. I’m just proud to lend my name to an event that helps to raise the funds.”
Fennell said books kept for the gala show that all net proceeds go to the organizations listed on its website. “You can see on the website the number of groups and organizations who’ve been able to be helped through the proceeds.”
The gala’s website lists 88 community groups that “received a donation of funds or the use of the Community Suite at the Powerade Centre (a joint city-private venture) or (the city-owned) Rose Theatre for their fundraising efforts.”
Listed organizations contacted by the Star offered mixed responses.
Fennell “donated her private box to a (Ontario Hockey League) Battalion game in 2008,” said a representative of the Academy of Martial Arts in Brampton. “There was no money donation.”
A non-profit downtown gallery, Beaux-Arts Brampton, confirmed it received a $6,000 donation this summer. “We’re grateful for the mayor’s contribution to us,” said administrator Sharonanne Baillie.
Five Catholic schools are also listed. Bruce Campbell, head of communications for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic board, said two schools were allowed to use the private box at the Powerade Centre to see Battalion games. One received $350 for a student trip and one received access to the Rose Theatre. “I’m not sure for what,” he said.
“One school (on the list) couldn’t find or recall any donation from the mayor, but the principal has only been there for two years.”
Catherine Hinton, executive director of the Peel Children’s Aid Foundation, confirmed the mayor has helped her organization but privacy issues prevent her from specifying how. “I can say the mayor has been very supportive of (us).”
The Brampton Arts Council is also listed, but executive director Marnie Richards said her organization gets no funding from the gala. “What we do get is funding from the mayor’s luncheon (an annual function for the Arts Council that began long before Fennell became mayor).”
As well as the gala, there is the Mayor Susan Fennell Annual Golf Classic. In 2009, it charged $2,000 per foursome and racked up sponsorships at $1,000 to $25,000 per donor. Fennell has pledged $100,000 a year from the proceeds to the new Brampton Civic Hospital, with any excess directed to “a worthwhile charity,” according to the tournament’s website.
Fennell said funds collected from the golf event and arts gala are kept in separate bank accounts.
Anne Randell, president and CEO of the William Osler Health System Foundation, said Brampton Civic Hospital has received a $100,000 cheque from the mayor’s golf tournament for each of the past four years.
The hospital is also listed on the gala website as a beneficiary. But Randell said it hasn’t received any money from that event “that I’m aware of — so that’s interesting. There’s nothing over and above the $100,000 from the golf tournament.”
Regional councillor Elaine Moore, who sits on Brampton’s council, wants to know if some of the many city staff who attend the fundraising events are doing so on the taxpayer’s dime. “I think enormous city resources are being used, but we have no way of knowing.”
Fennell makes a point of a grand entrance at the golf tournament: She has been flown in on a helicopter, arrived atop a Zamboni and had a police escort.
Fennell denies that city resources or staff have ever been used for fundraising events without reimbursement.
A previous donor to the arts gala, who didn’t want to be named, showed the Star an email received last January from Sandra Carpino, a member of Fennell’s staff.
It invites the donor to purchase a table again, and is signed: “Sandra Carpino, Office of the Mayor; City of Brampton.” It lists a City of Brampton phone and fax number. The attached order form also lists the mayor’s office and the city hall address as the place to send cheques, and includes a phone number for the mayor’s office to inquire about sponsorship opportunities.
Fennell acknowledged city staff are involved in fundraising, but insisted they volunteer their time — including Carpino, who she confirmed does much of the work of organizing the golf tournament, soliciting prizes and sponsorships and sending registration letters.
Last November, Moore asked that council revisit its earlier decision not to appoint independent watchdogs, including an integrity commissioner.
The motion was defeated, with Callahan, Moore and two others voting in favour, and Fennell and six councillors against.
“People ask, ‘Where is all this money going?’ ” Moore said. “Councillor Callahan’s tried his best to engage at the council table, but gets shut down by the mayor every time, because (she says), ‘It has nothing to do with the city.’ ”
Fennell said Callahan brought up the question of the community fund during the city budget process. “And the chair of the budget says, ‘Councillor Callahan, we’re talking about the city budget today. That is not a city event, it’s not city money. So could we please get back to the budget.’ ”

Monday, October 4, 2010

Update on Denver Dias vs. Denver case

Thought you might want to hear of a new update in the Denver court case Dias vs. Denver. This case was filed in 2007--that one that's making its turtle-slow plod through the federal judicial system.
Anyway...on September 29th, the judge ruled in our favor in Denver's motion for summary judgment. To briefly recap what this means...Denver filed in January that we should not be allowed to go to trial because this issue had already been decided in previous cases in court and we had no possibility of winning. The judge ruled with us that this case should be tried. In fact, in the ruling, he wrote these glorious words...
"...a reasonable trier of fact may find that Plaintiffs' experts are correct and there exists no rational basis for a breed specific ordinance. Accordingly, summary judgment would be inappropriate."
So...this is a really good thing for this case and yet another loss on Denver's part. I've attached the ruling in case you might be interested in seeing it. What might particularly be of interest is the section where the judge talks about some of the expert witness testimony beginning on page 8.
For a much better write-up of this summary judgment, check out this web site, The author of the article on the site, Katie B, worked with our lawyer, Karen Breslin to help write our answer to Denver's summary judgment motion. She also was instrumental in getting Topeka, Kansas to overturn their breed ban, which they did this week! All in all, there's a lot of momentum moving toward sane dog laws, and it's going to get even better!
Now...on to trial. When the judge sets the trial date, I'll let you know!
Your friend,
Additional great news!!...
October 4th, Bill Bruce, the director of Animal Bylaws for Calgary, Alberta, is coming to do a presentation in front of Denver's City Council and it is open to the public.
As you might recall, Bill has created the model animal community in Calgary and goes throughout the United States and Canada to speak about their success at various animal control associations, humane society meetings, etc. He's achieved this success and made dog bites almost a thing of the past in his city--roughly the size of the Denver metro area--through sane laws, great community service-based animal control officers, and a culture that doesn't allow for discriminating against dogs by how they look.
Bill was here in 2009 and did an abbreviated presentation to some of the city council members and on Monday he will do his full and recently-updated presentation at the City and County Building at 1437 Bannock Street. It is open to the public. I cannot get the exact time or room number yet--I get different info from Bill and the City Council, so I will have to let you know that later. As far as I can tell it will be between 2:00 and 3:30 p.m. and in room number 451 or 391.