The gloves are off, there is no scandal: Mayor Fennell will fight for Brampton

April 11, 2014 - All News

By Mayor Susan Fennell

On Wednesday, March 26th, the previous council meeting, I was absent.

As you were all made aware, the reason for the absence was I was at the hospital, as my husband was undergoing open heart surgery that day.

I want to first thank the good people of Brampton for the outpouring of support and prayers for John’s recovery. We are grateful for your kind words.

Brampton is a family community and Brampton understands that family matters above all else.

I was so appalled and disgusted with the underhanded, self-serving tactics of certain members of council displayed at the last council meeting. To try and score political points during my absence, while I am at the hospital with my husband, is distasteful and beneath the threshold of common decency and respect you expect from colleagues, let alone your adversaries.

I was equally disgusted by the shameless timing of the barrage of questions and accusations thrown at me by a certain reporter at the Toronto Star, while at the hospital with my family. You should be ashamed of yourself for your actions, which are not befitting of a qualified journalist.

I am taking this time, to tell you enough is enough, the Mayor is now fighting back, there is no scandal in Brampton, all budgets are approved by all council, and there is a process. Council approved the Mayor’s advocacy role at FCM, and an International Trade Agenda. Council approved the Salaries for Mayor and Council. I will remain focused on my job as your Mayor, and will seek decorum in this Chamber.

Enough is enough. I am always accountable. The public deserves the truth because the truth matters and the facts count.

Countless people have urged me, over many months, to ‘fight back’.

I have led and served this council as an elected official for almost 24 years. During this time, I have worked tirelessly, championing this great city, wherever I am and serving you, the taxpayers with the utmost integrity, dedication and determination. This unwavering commitment to protect your interests and serve you with honesty, full transparency and respect, was recognized by you , as you elected and re-elected me to serve as your Mayor, 4 times.

I am proud of our collective achievements.

We have grown from a small town to a booming city, growing stronger by the day, attracting talent from around the world. You have chosen Brampton to call home, and to do business. Families and business succeed here.

I applaud the City staff for their contributions and delivering on Brampton Council’s priorities and decisions.

The story of our success is profound. Our success indicates our spirit of unity, team work and determination to be the best we can be.

However, over the past several months, there has been a concerted effort by a group of my own colleagues, councillors you have elected, in conjunction with the Toronto Star, to create a smear campaign of the name of our City, Brampton; all in the goal of actually smearing ‘my name’.

From the most recent ridiculous statements about ‘missing money relating to Capital Projects…to the almost weekly attacks to the credibility of myself as Mayor.

I am speaking right now, right here. Enough is enough. You will no longer derail Brampton’s reputation; besmirch the reputation of our great city.

I will no longer sit quiet. Yes, I am known for taking the high road. I have not pushed back. I have not spoken. Until now.

The gloves are off. I will fight for this city. I will fight to protect our reputation. I am and will fight for the good people of Brampton and put an end to this sideshow.

Folks, I want to make one thing absolutely clear to you: there is no scandal.

There is no scandal. Let me say three times — there is no scandal in Brampton.

There is the scandalous behavior of a handful of publically elected councillors; tarnishing Brampton’s reputation, for their own attempted political gain.

For months, some members of council have tried to position my work, that of our city staff and other members of council, in an effort to manufacture stories that have upset, and misled residents to believe there is a scandal brewing in our City.

I have been ridiculed and wrongly characterized by The Toronto Star as a Mayor who ‘wastes your tax dollars on lavish expenses, feeling entitled to my entitlements, so to speak. Numerous stories filled with bias, half-truths and limiting context for reasonable people to get the whole story. Well, let’s talk about my expenses, and the mayor’s council approved budget, which has not been exceeded…year over year.

The beauty of our governance structure as municipalities under a democracy is that decisions made are formed through consensus, meaning that no one councillor, or the mayor, has the power to veto the will of the majority of council on any decision.

A mayor of any city in Canada carries equal weight as his or her council colleagues. That vote represents one vote and one vote only.

It is our duty as elected officials, to listen to our taxpayers, heed the advice of city staff, and come to a decision that best reflects what we collectively feel serves in the best interests of taxpayers.

Bringing this closer to home, these select councillors who have been running around to the media to offer their comments of shock and dismay over my spending, fail to mention that every single budget that has been introduced since I have been elected as Mayor, has been approved by all members of Council. I have stayed within these approved budgets while getting things done.

I repeat: every single budget that has been introduced since I have been elected as Mayor, has been approved by all members of Council, which begs the question to those councillors who are now protesting: were you not paying attention when you voted over the past 14 years, or are you conveniently forgetting what you did in an attempt to score political points now? It can only be one of the two.

Folks, The Toronto Star and some of my council colleagues can try and fool you by manufacturing these crises, but the fact of the matter is that we have a process that dictates these budgets and nothing here is scandalous.

The estimates for expenses like travel or office expenses are not created at will. They are developed in conjunction with the experienced city staff, who takes a look at what our goals are as a City in terms of bringing results for taxpayers. Reports are presented to Council which we collectively either approve, or question, or reject. I do not unilaterally approve my own budgets, council does collectively.

My budgets have been approved with the support of Councillor Elaine Moore, Councillor John Sprovieri, and Councillor John Sanderson, all of who have lately been expressing shock and dismay as if they have no clue where these budgets came from?

Again, I ask you councillors, were you not paying attention for the past 14 years and blindly voting without representing the interests of your taxpayers?

A great example of how things have been recklessly mischaracterized by some of my council colleagues on the piggyback of The Toronto Star is your decision, your vote for my participation on the Board of FCM, and your decision to have Government Relations staff, in my office, also participate. Full Council approval and support. Yes, council approved the mayor’s participation. Council knows there is travel involved.

Truth matters, results count. Over the six years reported in The Star, records show there was an average $30,000 per year appropriated to the FCM council approved budget for the mayor and staff approved participation.

And the result — not included in a Star story — because it does not suit their ‘narrative’ according to CAO John Corbett, the City of Brampton has received $578 Million dollars $578,000,000.00, through this important advocacy.

As Mayor I have seen the transformation in our local economies across municipalities in Canada. No longer is there the same robust manufacturing sector as there once was, that brought money into the cities to offset property tax hikes. With the loss of those traditional sources of revenue, with higher infrastructure costs, and government downloading, we have two choice (sic) either continue to dip deeper into the pockets of taxpayers, or minimize that by seeking out funding partnerships from other levels of government.

Brampton invested, $180,000 over six years, ($30,000 per year) to bring a result of $578 million. Truth matters and results count.

We live in a globally competitive environment. We are competing with neighboring municipalities for business opportunities, jobs; jobs; jobs; and investment. Our success means we ultimately see more opportunities for our citizens, more jobs, and a stronger economy that helps lower the tax burden on residents.

This council approved an International Investment strategy for this term.

My travels to China, India and the Philippines (each individually approved by all council, in a report to Council, open, public and transparent) are a reality of our times. One cannot attract investments to our city, by, as one of my colleagues has suggested, by being a ‘stay-at-home’ mayor. We must be aggressive, at the forefront, showcasing our strengths in education, skilled labour, our strong location, exceptional quality of life, our diversity, to attract new investments from around the world. Brampton is succeeding. Following each council-approved mission, a summary report, complete with analysis is put to council.

Every time — unanimously approved — without questions.

So, I ask you, the taxpayers, is it reasonable to spend budgets, approved by Council, to advocate for funding to relieve property taxes? Is it reasonable to spend budgets, approved by council, to travel internationally, and put Brampton on the world stage, and compete strongly for the next generation of investments in Canada, the next generation of jobs, and promote our local business community on the world stage? This to lessen the tax burden on you? Is that ‘reckless entitlement’ or a demonstration of strong leadership!

Now, let’s move to my office budget… The Toronto Star, with the assistance of some Councillors, have reported that I have spent $186,000 in the past 3 years, and duplicated these numbers with headlines of me or my staff, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on credit cards, characterizing my spending as ‘out of control’? Again, every single budget, year after year, for the past 14 years, has been approved by a majority of members of council, not by me on my own, folks. Budgets approved by council, and not exceeded. Yes corporate credit cards are used. That provides a paper trail and, accountability, complete transparency of every dollar expended.

So when some of you councillors pick up your phone and speak to your partner, and favorite reporter at The Star and sensationalize your narrative, do you forget that you once believed these budgets were reasonable? Or do you forget to mention that over 70% of my office expenses went directly to support youth, seniors and community groups in the City under the Council approved Annual Budget Line: Marketing, Advertising and Promotion.

And to this media-hungry pack of councillors along with their favorite ‘non-biased’ reporter, why create an air of unsubstantiated suspicion and speculation about credit card expenses, when we all collectively and unanimously approved a forensic audit to look at all our expenses?

And to The Star — did you overlook “office expenses’ such as Councillor Elaine Moore’s self-promotion garden appreciation lawn signs during non-election years? Or Councillor Callahan’s personal expenses for his Law Society lawyers dues and continuing legal education requirements? Or Councillor Sprovieri’s home alarm system? You called these ‘reasonable’ on your recent TV show just two nights ago?

This list of this sort of hypocrisy, and journalism goes on and on. Why?

Never let the truth get in the way of trying to score a few political points, and trying to sell papers right? Shame on you!

There will be questions, full disclosure is important. There will be mistakes. I commit to the residents of this city, that strict new controls are being installed; I insist on it. We can always do better. I will review and re-review every expense practice in my office to ensure value for money and demand tougher scrutiny.

I will continue to do the job I’m elected to do serve the people of Brampton, not The Toronto Star. Therefore, I will not be responding further to the ongoing questions and queries, on a daily basis, by the Toronto Star to feed into their narrative of manufacturing a crisis that only they and a few self-serving councillors want to portray!

It simply does not exist. Hours of staff time in many departments, trying their best to provide accurate responses, only to be half-reported or ignored by The Star. Did you know the City has had to retain a lawyer (taxpayer expense) to push back the bias and incomplete reporting of The Star? Last week, the City had to use taxpayers money to ‘set the record straight’ in a paid ad, to correct the outrageous statements of these same councillors. Two weeks ago, our Brampton Board of Trade sent a letter to The Star, urging them to discontinue the reputational harm to our City.

Lastly, I want to address the issue of my salary head on.

You, Council, approve my salary. You, Council, approve your salary. You have unquestionably approved the Mayor and Councillor salary every time the matter is before Council; most recently, Spring 2013 and Dec 11, 2013.

You know an arms-length Compensation Committee recommends a salary structure. You know, the salary formula is designed to set salaries of all members of Council, each term, with incremental adjustments annually over a 10-year period, beginning in 2006. You approved this salary formula and chart displaying what the salary for the Mayor and Council is.

The Toronto Star calls the Mayor out for 2012; note they are now being specific to 2012, because their story cannot be said for 2001, 2002, nor for 2013! San Grewal knows he is wrong. You know he is wrong. Councillor Moore and Councillor Sanderson and Councillor Sprovieri, did you not read the report or hear the presentation from the Chair of the Committee — not me — but the Chair, on December 11th, 2013 during the annual budget presentation, in this Chamber?

That afternoon, even The Star headline: “Brampton’s Mayor Susan Fennell actually ninth highest paid mayor in Canada, councillors told”. In 2012, I was, in fact the 9th highest paid Mayor and not the highest paid — for that ‘one year’. Last week, councillors again, complain about the mayor’s salary, that they ‘approve for the mayor’!

I did not compromise the decision of this Council to re-set the salary you assigned the Mayor. I did not re-open the compensation.

No, I listened to many residents and reviewed the matter and took action to ‘simply not accept’ the ‘mayor salary assigned by this council’. Yes, I reduced what I was ‘entitled to by this Council’ because I believe it was right to do.

Why did I not openly bring this to your attention so you could mock and characterize it as a stunt? No. I simply listened to the public, reviewed the ‘council decision/entitlement’ and took action. I ‘reduced my entitled salary, cut it 15%.

To speculate ‘motive’ when I am absent, is disgraceful. A decision I made six months ago, could have waited one council meeting, for your ‘brave questions in my absence.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I mentioned earlier, I have remained focused on the job I am elected to do: Lead Brampton to a brighter future; a future that is ours to seize — together.

Yet, to the countless of residents who have contacted me, expressing frustration, and seeing through the shameful behavior of certain councillors and telling me, that the mayor needs to fight back.

I have heard your words.

“Taking the high road just doesn’t cut it”, you have said.

When the city’s reputation, and my reputation, my integrity, my respect for taxpayers begins to get questioned unfairly in order to destroy my reputation and Brampton’s brand; I am standing up; the gloves are off; I will fight back.

The truth matters and facts count.

While some of my council colleagues are busy campaigning for political points under the guise of protecting taxpayers, all while collecting a taxpayer paid paycheque from you, I am leading by action. My colleagues, while they continued to hurl accusations against me, just to grab a good headline or two; I took definitive action to improve things.

I cut the expenses in the Office of the Mayor. I took a self-imposed pay cut in response to what I heard from taxpayers, without any political fanfare or grandstanding.

My reward? A scolding from the City’s usual detractors on council and of course The Star, for my doing the right thing. If it was ‘wrong, it would not have been permitted by City Staff; I supported the forensic audit to provide for better clarity on all members of council’s expenses, including my own.

Actions speak louder than words. Truth matters and facts count. Can more be done to improve how we spend, track and file our expenses? Absolutely. There is always room for improvement.

It is time for certain members of this council to stop campaigning for a new mayor in this chamber, while collecting a paycheque from taxpayers. Do the job you were elected to do, let’s work together to be part of building this city — not the obstacle.

When the city you live in, raise a family in, spend time with friends in, becomes the target of a vicious, calculated attack for personal political gain, Susan Fennell will stand up and fight back.

To Mr. Cooke and The Toronto Star, I publically and respectfully request that you review the standard of journalism that is representing your name here in Brampton. I welcome the opportunity to sit down and share my views on the success of Brampton — which you seldom if ever print.

I have been receptive to constructive criticism my entire political career, and am always keen on improving where we need to improve. Acknowledging this and taking action rather than “digging in my heels, and declaring ‘all is just fine’ is a reflection of strong leadership and I pride myself on serving the good people of this City with that standard of confidence and humility.

Let’s get back on track and move our great city forward. It’s time to build on our strengths of being a terrific family community; a youth-friendly community; a city with an incredible transit system where seniors’ ride for $1 dollar; a city where business succeeds! There is more we can achieve collectively, rather than divided. It’s time we pound the doors of the province and finally bring home a university!

In closing, I want to reiterate, that I am a very proud Mayor, and I will continue to work with the highest of respect for taxpayers.

Finally, I thank council, for this opportunity today to set the record straight.