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.’ ”


  1. I always knew she was in cahoots with the developers and was personally corrupt herself.

    The signs were there from the start...this is just the icing on the cake.

    And now I know why the cops never did anything!

  2. Fennell/Funnel, that just sent me into gales of laughter.
    Even if the money is being properly distributed (only one signatory for cheques of six figures??? that's a no-no in any organization that pays attention to ethics and compliance), the optics are hideous and make Fennell look really, really bad. She'd better get her charitable application in to Canada Revenue Agency ASAP and open the books, if she wants people to believe that there was no wrongdoing. She'd also better stop using City personnel, time, equipment, etc. for her own purposes.