Cowan’s GRCA expenses deemed suspect, sent to police

The investigation into Todd Cowan’s expense claims grew a little wider this week with the referral to police of mileage claims related to the mayor’s attendance of Grand River Conservation Authority meetings.

The GRCA expenses having been sent to the township, a staff review found $465 in mileage claims that may have been double-billed, as was the case with some $2,700 in expenses paid by Woolwich but also reimbursed to Cowan by the Region of Waterloo. The review looked at mileage claims submitted to the township that coincided with GRCA meetings. Staff categorized mileage expenses in “likely,” “possible” and “not likely,” identifying $465.52 in suspect claims.

Meeting Tuesday night, council voted to send the latest findings to Waterloo Regional Police, who are still in the preliminary phase of any investigation that might follow.

“Police have obtained a file and are in the early stages of reviewing it. We are not however in a position at this point to determine appropriate next steps,” said spokesman Olaf Heinzel in an email Wednesday.

The initial look into Cowan’s claims began in July after 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 by municipal law expert John Mascarin of the firm of Aird & Berlis LLP.

Cowan paid back a total of $2,770.68 in August, blaming his poor bookkeeping skills for the mistake and denying any intent behind the double reimbursement.

At this week’s committee-of-the-whole-meeting, chief administrative officer David Brenneman revealed the price tag for the legal review to be $25,000, split evenly between the township and region. He was quick to distance the cost from the expenses in question that amounted to just 10 per cent.

“It wasn’t just a peer review or double-check of staff’s investigation,” said Brenneman, explaining that the process involved legal consultation and  a review of the expense policies at the township and region along with investigating Cowan’s expenses through his whole term.

“While it’s unfortunate, it was a necessary cost.”

Also defending the expense, Coun. Mark Bauman called on Cowan to repay the legal costs.

Reading from a prepared text, he said an investigation was warranted given that this wasn’t a one-off, isolated incident.

“We had concerns that there may have been a pattern.”

Added Coun. Bonnie Bryant, “I think we needed to ensure accountability and openness. Council needed to make an informed judgment.”

Although he voted in favour of referring the GRCA expenses to the police, as he did at last week’s council session, Cowan left the meeting immediately afterwards, not making himself available for questions.

The township’s latest review of Cowan’s expenses came at the request of the GRCA, which provided staff with mileage numbers to check against claims in Woolwich. The agency pays its board members a per diem for attending meetings plus mileage to and from the meeting place other authorized events such as conferences and workshops.

“We checked Mayor Cowan’s expense claims against the attendance records and found everything lined up,” said GRCA spokesman Dave Schultz in an email.

At the township, however, some of the claims were flagged as possible double-billing.

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