Woolwich Mayor Todd Cowan was the author of his own misfortune in claiming expenses resulting in an overpayment to him of more than $2,700. In doing so, he “may have potentially violated one or more provisions of the Criminal Code,” says the lawyer who conducted an external review of Cowan’s expenses.
In a report commissioned by the township and Region of Waterloo, John Mascarin of Aird & Berlis LLP said the blame lies squarely on Cowan’s shoulders, despite the mayor’s cooperation with the investigation, acknowledgement of his errors and repayment of funds.
Mascarin’s report, released to the public Tuesday, paints a picture of Cowan as someone unfamiliar with expense policies who used his township credit card for personal expenses and did not keep atop of the paperwork.
EXCERPTS FROM THE REPORT
Although he is a first-term member of council he is an educated individual with prior political experience, having served as the former chief of staff for a Member of Provincial Parliament at Queen’s Park. He indicated that he ran the office and was responsible for all aspects in support of the MPP’s mandate, including ensuring timely compliance with all duties and obligations. He noted that he was aware that a politician’s expenses are a particularly sensitive issue.
Notwithstanding, he appeared to be generally unfamiliar with the expense policies of both municipalities. In follow-up interviews, it was confirmed that a copy of the township’s expense policy was provided to Mayor Cowan during the council orientation sessions at the local level. He acknowledged that he was likely given the various policies at some point by both municipalities but that he was not cognizant of their specific terms.
Mayor Cowan indicated that he personally prepared and submitted his township expense claims. He acknowledged that he had a history of tardy expense claim and receipt submissions. Township staff confirmed his late submissions and the fact that they had to follow-up with him numerous times during his term of office to submit his claims on a timely basis and/or to submit receipts to support his corporate credit card expenses. Mayor Cowan admitted to sometimes charging personal expenses and Regional expenses on his Township-issued corporate credit card. He indicated that he thought he had the latitude or discretion to also charge Regional expenses so long as he repaid the amounts. When questioned further about the matter, he admitted that such a practice, including using the township-issued corporate credit card for personal expenses, was likely inappropriate. All personal charges on the Township-issued corporate credit card were repaid by Mayor Cowan.
There is no evidence in the records provided by the township and the region that Mayor Cowan apportioned any expenses between the municipalities. All reimbursements paid to the Mayor by the township and the region, and all purchases charged to the township issued corporate credit card, appear to have been for the full cost of each expense. Mayor Cowan admitted he did not apportion any of the expense claims between the municipalities.
Mayor Cowan noted that he personally prepared and submitted his monthly expense claims at the Region but that his conference expenses were prepared by and submitted by Colleen Sargeant, the Research and Administrative Assistant responsible for 15 regional councillors at the Region. Ms. Sargeant confirmed this and indicated that Mayor Cowan remitted all supporting receipts within the timeframes requested by her and that she had not had any issues processing his expense claims or receiving adequate or timely supporting documentation from him.
Township staff, on the other hand, indicated that Mayor Cowan did not submit his supporting receipts at all on a timely basis and that he was spoken to numerous times about his tardiness. While Mayor Cowan admitted that he is not a “details man” and that his “bookkeeping” is one of his major weaknesses, he appeared to indicate that Township staff could have been more proactive in simply making him aware of the need to submit full supporting documentation on a timely basis. We discussed this further with Township staff who remarked that he had been asked, reminded and, in fact, implored to be more attentive to his obligations to submit full supporting expense documentation on a timely basis.
At one point during our questioning, Mayor Cowan stopped us and indicated that, before we embarked on a detailed series of questions related to the expense claim submissions and reimbursements, he wanted to admit that he was not going to dispute that he had submitted double claims to both the Township and Region for a number of the expenses at issue (and as set out in the chart appended to this report).
Mayor Cowan stated that he was not going to dispute the double reimbursement for the majority of the expense claims upon which he was being questioned. He stated that, subject to verification of one or two items, he acknowledged and admitted that he had submitted claims and had been reimbursed twice (without having made any repayment to the municipalities).
Based on our review of the documentary record, our multiple interviews with staff at the township and at the region, our interview and subsequent follow-up with Mayor Cowan and our analysis of the legislative and policy framework, we have concluded as follows:
- Mayor Cowan was largely ignorant of his obligations pursuant to the township and the region’s expense policies. A person of his background and experience, although a first-term mayor and regional councillor, ought to have exercised a greater degree of diligence with respect to his knowledge of the processes and procedures pertaining to the submission of proper expense claims and reimbursements.
- The township and the region’s expense policies are relatively clear and provide adequate direction on how expenses and claims should be prepared and submitted.
- The township and the region’s expense policies do not address the issue of double claim submissions and double reimbursements. It is our view that it is not necessary for them to do so. Subsection 283(2) of the Municipal Act, 2001 expressly provides that council members can only be reimbursed for expenses which “are actually incurred.” A member who has already paid for an expense with a municipally-issued credit card cannot have incurred the entire expense for the purposes of reimbursement by another municipality.
- Mayor Cowan admitted to attending the AMO and ROMA Conferences in a dual capacity: both as township mayor and as regional councillor. To the extent that Mayor Cowan attended conferences in his capacity as Mayor, he was not entitled to be reimbursed by the region under its conference policy. Mayor Cowan reported to the township on his conference attendances but did not submit a report to the Region as required by its Conference Policy.
- Mayor Cowan fully cooperated with us during this investigation and made himself available to meet with us and fully answer all of our questions. We found him to be candid and forthright in his responses. He admitted his ignorance of the expense policies and acknowledged that he was ultimately responsible in submitting the expense claims and for not paying back any overpayments. He admitted not only his shortcomings with respect to his knowledge of the expense policies but also his late submissions and poor record-keeping.
- Mayor Cowan admitted his errors and took full responsibility. He offered during our interview and subsequently in writing to provide full reimbursement to the township and the region or to both.
- Mayor Cowan noted some personal matters which occurred during 2013 and 2014 that may have constituted mitigating circumstances and partially explained his inattention to his expense claim submissions and reimbursement payments in those years.
- Mayor Cowan reiterated several times during our meeting with him and again subsequently by email dated August 11, 2014 that he did not have any intent to defraud or take advantage of the Region of Waterloo or the township.” Based on the foregoing, it is our view that Mayor Cowan submitted expense claims and received reimbursements from either or both the township and the region in contravention of the municipalities’ expense policies. As head of council for the Township and as a former chief of staff for a Member of Provincial Parliament, he ought to have been much more cognizant of his duties, obligations and responsibilities. Mayor Cowan profited in the total amount of approximately $2,770.68. Mayor Cowan has admitted his mistakes and has offered to make full restitution forthwith to the municipalities.