SCUGOG: Scugog resident and former councillor Howard Danson has asked Scugog Township to have an independent audit of Ward 3 Councillor Don Kett’s expenses carried out.
At a meeting, held on Monday, December 4th, Mr. Danson presented his questions and concerns regarding the numbers in Councillor Kett’s annual expense disclosure reports, such as his mileage claims.
Mr. Danson told Councillors he first drew the community’s attention to Councillor Kett’s 2016 expense claims through a letter.
“I asked ‘what was the return on investment for the taxpayers of Scugog?’ I would have left it at that, but then Mr. Kett had the audacity to ask the township to pay for his potential personal legal fees up to $30,000, for him to try to clear his name from the bullying and harassment allegations against him that were confirmed by integrity commissioner Elston,” Mr. Danson explained.
Mr. Danson added that because of the Ward 3 Councillor’s request, he “decided to ask for copies of [Councillor Kett’s] expense accounts since he became a councillor in 2014”, through a Freedom of Information request.
“When I got the information last week, I was not surprised to see that he had claimed mileage compensation of approximately $2,800 in each year 2015 and 2016,” Mr. Danson said. “This was 13 times as much as any other councillor in 2015 and 34 times as much as any other councillor in 2016. I wonder if that seemed odd to you Mr. Mayor?”
Mr. Danson alleged that Councillor Kett charged mileage from his home to the Township office, and asked if the Mayor thought it was appropriate for Councillor Kett to have charged mileage for attending golf tournaments.
He then also raised his concern about Councillor Kett being paid by both Durham Region and the Township mileage for attending Kawartha Region Conservation Authority (KRCA) meetings.
“From January 1, 2015 to December 3, 2016 the Township paid 15 claims from Mr. Kett, when he had also claimed mileage compensation from KRCA. The manager noted occasions, when Mr. Kett claimed mileage, when the records indicated he was not at the meeting, and there were instances when Mr. Kett claimed for mileage when there was no meeting, or when he carpooled with the Mayor,” Mr. Danson said, later asking if and when these funds had been repaid to the township.
The Township later confirmed that Councillor Kett paid back a total of $1,189 to the Township.
“Councillor Kett was initially questioned on the discrepancies, and his responses were immediately that he would be looking into it, because he wasn’t aware of it, and then in short time replied back to say that it was confusion on his part. He was unaware that he was being paid directly from KRCA and it was an inadvertent mistake on his behalf,” Mayor, Tom Rowett told The Standard following the meeting.
Also, according to a township press release, since then, staff have updated the Township’s Corporate Mileage Policy, as well as the Conference, Convention and Seminar Policy and the Credit Card Policy, requiring the Mayor to sign all councillors expenses before they can be submitted for reimbursement.
Mr. Danson finished his presentation by saying Councillor Kett put the Mayor, township staff and taxpayers in a “difficult position.”
At the time, Mayor Rowett said he could not answer all of Mr. Danson’s questions because he was not privy to the information Mr. Danson had, and didn’t want to be in a situation, in a public council meeting, where he was “accusing somebody or defending somebody.”
Councillor Kett then attempted to answer Mr. Danson’s questions.
“I agree with Mr. Danson’s motives, and I realize that I am a champion of transparency and accountability, and the best avenue is to be open and up-front, and if it exposes me, then so be it,” Councillor Kett said.
In regards to his mileage being high, Councillor Kett pointed to the fact he carpools with other councillors to certain events and conferences.
“Councillor Guido and I carpool to Windsor, carpool to Ottawa. Councillor Wotten has gone with me as well. Councillor Somerville and Councillor Back at times. I’m the chauffeur.”
He also explained his motive behind looking for funds for a judicial review of Integrity Commissioner H.G. Elston’s reports.
“It was not for my personal use. I was cleared of any of the ridiculous comments made by the first integrity commissioner,” he said. “Even though I was completely exonerated, I wanted to find out where the procedures went wrong. I didn’t do it for my sake.”
As well, he said all of his expenses were approved by the CAO, of the time, and the treasurer.
“There was a double payment, and they came forward to me with the new rules and everything was straightened out.”
Mayor Rowett stressed that financial controls have recently been strengthened and modernized.
Ward 5 Councillor Jennifer Back argued that if an audit is being done on one councillor’s expenses, it should be done on all Scugog Councillors’ and Township staff’s expenses.
Council later decided to ask staff to get legal advice, as well as advice from the township auditor, on how to move forward on this issue.
CAO Paul Allore said while the KRCA mileage funds have been recouped, the township has not yet asked for any of Councillor Kett’s other claims to be repaid.
“We have evidence that it appears to have been done, we need to look into that in more detail,” Mr. Allore said.