Brampton councillors say Mayor Patrick Brown is the driving force behind a legal move against the City of Brampton to overturn council’s previous decision to select Elaine Moore as councillor for Wards 7 and 8 for the remainder of the term.
A judicial review, which was filed to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice by Coun. Harkirat Singh, one of Brown’s closest allies, claims the appointment of Moore, after Charmaine Williams won a provincial seat in the recent election, did not follow the proper process.
However, the five councillors, who voted along with Williams to select her replacement in a majority decision, have said they received a legal opinion stating there was nothing wrong with their conditional selection of a replacement in case Williams was successful.
Brown and Coun. Rowena Santos are at the centre of a set of ongoing investigations into alleged wrongdoing in city hall hirings and procurements over the past three years. The same group of councillors that voted for Moore to join council has consistently voted in favour of the investigations, after allegations were brought forward by current and former staff.
Brown, Santos and their three council allies have not been supportive of the investigations (it remains unclear why Brown and Santos have not declared a conflict of interest during votes; Santos has taken votes against them despite being the main focus of two of the investigations, one for her alleged involvement in a lucrative contract for her mentor and political ally, and another for her alleged harassment of a senior staffer who raised concerns over the contract work).
Councillors told The Pointer that Brown is the driving force behind the legal action to block Moore’s replacement.
“The mayor’s attempt to go over council is to me a sign that there is way more to this,” Coun. Jeff Bowman said.
“It is clear the mayor and his team are behind this legal action,” Coun. Gurpreet Dhillon said.
A June 16 press release signed by Brown, Santos, Singh, Paul Vicente and Michael Palleschi stated, “Unfortunately, prior to the June 2nd provincial election, on May 31, during a last-minute special council meeting that was called by a group of six councillors, an unprecedented motion contrary to the Ontario Municipal Act was brought forward to pre-assign the seat for Ward 7 and 8 even though the seat was not yet vacant.”
The Pointer asked Brown to provide the section of the Municipal Act that backs up his claim. He did not respond.
Singh did not reply to The Pointer’s request for comment on the involvement of other members in the judicial review application.
“We were advised that the Municipal Act was silent on selecting a person to replace a sitting councillor in the event of a future declared vacancy,” Bowman said, referring to the opinion of a municipal law expert that was received. “In fact I would consider it succession planning. She (Moore) was not and will not be `appointed’ to the position until the vacancy is declared, which is in line with the Municipal Act.”
Bowman commented on the recent attacks against Moore, who Brown had named as one of his campaign advisors during his 2018 mayoral campaign. She has since been outspoken about the city hall misconduct that has taken place under Brown’s leadership and has publicly criticized him for hiring inexperienced senior staff with Conservative political ties to Brown who were implicated in a fraudulent hiring scheme in Niagara before they were recruited by the mayor.
“Elaine Moore was a very close trusted advisor to the mayor during his campaign to become mayor, and now she is absolutely the wrong person to fill a council seat for the remaining 3 months, in his opinion?”
Dhillon said Moore is clearly a concern to Brown, Santos and the others, because of her strong record of advocating fiercely to protect taxpayers. She was instrumental in exposing widespread abuse of taxpayers by former mayor Susan Fennell.
“It’s unfortunate that the mayor is trying to block Elaine Moore’s appointment even though she was one of his senior advisors for his campaign to become mayor.”
Because Moore’s appointment would be automatically triggered during the next council meeting following Williams’ official retirement, Brown and his four allies have refused to attend any of the scheduled meetings since, forcing their cancellation. Without Williams on council there are only five other councillors remaining, one shy of quorum, which is required to hold a council meeting and take votes to manage the business of the city. Instead, this business is not being done because of the refusal of Brown, Santos, Vicente, Palleschi and Singh to show up for work.
Now, to prevent Moore from being appointed, Brown and the others are backing legal action.
During debate in council chambers on Moore’s selection, Santos claimed, “…there is a very strong effort for a certain group of six councillors to maintain control over this council,” suggesting Moore would vote with them to continue their efforts to restore accountability within city hall. The six members who supported her selection have pushed for the series of ongoing investigations, some involving allegations of wrongdoing by Santos and Brown. Santos dismissed their efforts as part of the election “silly season”.
Bowman said the business of the city, including the ongoing investigations into allegations of widespread wrongdoing under Brown, is being delayed by the legal tactic.
“We as councillors are elected to make decisions on behalf of the residents, it is our responsibility to ensure that the business of the City moves, and bylaws are enacted.”
On May 31, when the vote was taken and the six members supported it, days before Williams officially resigned following her victory, Brown, Singh, Santos, Palleschi and Vicente lost their attempt to block the choice of Moore.
Brown and the others claim Williams should not have been allowed to participate in the vote to decide her replacement.
Bowman disagrees, and pointed out there is nothing in the Municipal Act that prevents this.
“As for Charmaine being involved in the selection process for her replacement, I have said before, the residents of her Wards elected her and put their faith in the fact that she was a strong leader, able to articulate well on important issues and was bold enough to take a stand,” he said. “She was in total support of a person to fill in for her who she felt embodied those same characteristics, and would support her residents the same way she had for three-and-a-half years.”
Toronto’s recent problems with its appointment process highlighted one of the drawbacks of not allowing council to decide in advance on a replacement. After Michael Ford vacated his seat following his provincial victory, the woman eventually selected to replace him by a process that removed council from much of the decision making, was forced to immediately step down when past homophobic social media posts by her were brought forward.
Mississauga chose a path more similar to Brampton’s recently, when council members chose veteran former councillor Pat Mullin to replace Karen Ras, who resigned early in the year for personal reasons.
The Municipal Act states after a councillor resigns “the council shall at its next meeting declare the office to be vacant.” Moore was already selected to be the replacement at a meeting under the May 31 motion that stated she would fill in, if Williams won her race in the provincial election. Moore will step in once the vacancy is declared, but that can’t happen if Brown and his four allies refuse to allow a meeting to be held.
Filed by Sullivan Mahoney LLP, Singh’s application argues that under the provisions of the Municipal Act, there is no authority for a council to conditionally fill the vacancy, and that legislation is “clear” and “unambiguous” that a vacancy should be declared before the appointment.
Bowman said it’s clear from the legal opinion received, this is not the case, and anyone can read the Municipal Act for themself.
The Pointer could not find any language in the legislation that prevents a majority of councillors from choosing a replacement ahead of an election, then appointing that person after the vacancy is declared. There is no language that prohibits a member from taking part in a vote to conditionally select their replacement, in the event the member wins an upcoming election.
The same six members who supported the vote to select Moore previously vowed to restore good local government in the city following a series of scandals involving former CAO David Barrick.
He was recruited by Brown, who he shared a number of close Conservative ties with, before he was fired in February when the six members had grown frustrated with how Barrick and Brown were running city hall. Barrick had been implicated in a number of scandals in Niagara, where he was fired from his role before Brown brought him to Brampton. Not long after arriving Barrick was accused of nepotism, bullying and misuse of public funds, triggering the current investigations ordered by the other six members of council, including Williams.
The next council meeting is scheduled for July 4, followed by one on July 6. They will also be cancelled if Brown, Santos, Vicente, Singh and Palleschi continue to refuse to show up.
Until council has quorum, agenda items are automatically carried over to the next meeting.
The application to quash Moore’s appointment was heard on Thursday in Brampton.
— With files from Global News