A police investigation is pending after a review found Woolwich Mayor Todd Cowan submitted expense claims resulting in a double reimbursement of more than $2,700.
Expenses related to conferences, mileage and meals charged on the mayor’s township credit card were also filed with the Region of Waterloo. Cowan serves as Woolwich’s representative on regional council.
Both municipalities have taken steps to prevent a doubling up of expense claims in the future.
A review began in July when a citizen got Cowan’s expense records from the region at the end of June, submitted a request under freedom of information legislation for the mayor’s township expenses and then supplied the township with the region’s records. An internal review by both municipalities was followed by an external investigation led by municipal law expert John Mascarin of the firm of Aird & Berlis LLP.
Cowan paid back a total of $2,770.68 in August, calling the issue a mistake based on his own poor accounting.
At a special meeting Monday night, Woolwich council voted to ask police to investigate the mayor’s expenses. Both Cowan and Coun. Bonnie Bryant, challenging Cowan in next month’s election, voted in favour of the resolution, neither deeming his or herself to have a pecuniary interest in the debate.
Coun. Mark Bauman drew attention to Cowan’s potential financial interest in the motion, prompting Cowan to reply that was not the case, “but others may have.”
The mayor approved the release to the public of Mascarin’s report, saying he had nothing to hide – “It was an innocent mistake.”
The motion also called for the cancellation of the mayor’s township credit card and for a review of corporate credit cards and expense policy.
The review found six incidents of double reimbursement between January 2012 and February 2014, the two largest amounting to more than $1,000 for an Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in Ottawa in August 2013 and a Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference in Toronto last February.
“Sending it to the police was the best choice to make,” said Bryant of the motion approved September 8.
“Council has directed staff to refer this matter to the Waterloo Regional Police Services and request that they complete an investigation, as neither Council nor staff has the expertise to consider and make decisions with respect to Mayor Cowan’s intent,” said Bauman in a township news release.
Following the meeting, Cowan said there was no intent on his part, reiterating that he was not careful enough with the paperwork.
“I’ve come clean. I recognized the mistake and dealt with it. I acknowledged it. I wrote the cheque,” he said of the repayment of the funds.
“I’ve been fully cooperative with staff and John Mascarin’s review.”
Despite the review and possible police investigation – Waterloo Regional Police had yet to receive a formal request as of early Tuesday afternoon – Cowan said he had no plans to step down. Likewise, he planned to keep campaigning for re-election in next month’s municipal vote.
“I’m going to continue to campaign. I’m not going to hide behind anything,” he said. “How is this going to affect the campaign? I don’t know.”
Regional council met in closed session Tuesday to discuss the issue. As was the case in Woolwich, councillors voted to refer the matter to police.
Unlike the Woolwich vote, Cowan excused himself from the debate.
Regional Chair Ken Seiling said Tuesday afternoon that the discussion centered on Cowan’s expenses, with no additional scrutiny on the mayors of the other municipalities who also serve on two councils.
“Council didn’t undertake a review of … all the mayors,” he said, noting that there have been few expenses claimed by the others.
For 2013, for instance, only the mayors of Wilmot and Wellesley submitted mileage/travel expenses, with no conference costs for any of the seven mayors other than Cowan.
A new protocol will cross-reference expense claims between the region and each of the lower-tier municipalities, said Seiling.
|Jan 2012||Double reimbursement of mileage (chamber breakfast, regional committee)||Mileage: $19.80|
|Aug 2012||AMO conference (Ottawa): One meal was paid on WT credit card for which Mayor/Councillor Cowan received a per diem from RW.||Per diem: $16.00|
|Feb 2013||ROMA conference (Toronto): Mileage expensed to and paid by both WT and RW. One meal was paid on WT credit card for which Mayor/Councillor Cowan received a per diem from RW.||Mileage: $124.96Per diem: $30.00|
|Apr 2013||Double reimbursement of mileage (WRHBA lunch, regional committee)||Mileage: $19.36|
|Aug 2013||AMO conference (Ottawa): Hotel paid on WT credit card, expensed to and paid by RW, with no reimbursement by Mayor/Councillor Cowan. Six meals were paid on WT credit card for which Mayor/Councillor Cowan received a per diem from RW.||Hotel: $1,379.20Per diem: $130.00|
|Feb 2014||ROMA conference (Toronto): Hotel paid on WT credit card, expensed to and paid by RW, with no reimbursement by Mayor/Councillor. One meal was paid on WT credit card for which Mayor/Councillor Cowan received a per diem from RW.||Hotel: $1,039.36Per diem: $12.00|