There’s no doubt Woolwich councillor Scott Hahn filed an incomplete election expenses report – he admits it – but he’ll have to wait until Monday to find out the repercussions.
Hahn’s expenses were the subject of the region’s first-ever meeting of the municipal election compliance audit committee, which grilled the Ward 1 councillor about his claims during a hearing May 4 in Woolwich council chambers.
Calling the initial filing an “honest mistake,” Hahn prepared a new report that saw his expenses from last fall’s election jump to $3,132.38 from the $258.40 he claimed earlier. It was that original number, so much lower than the expenses reported by other Woolwich candidates, that prompted fellow candidate Dan Holt to request an audit.
“All of the candidates followed the rules and filed accurate financial statements except Mr. Hahn,” Holt told the committee members.
“There does not seem to be a question of ‘if’ there should be an audit – Mr. Hahn has already admitted that his financial statement is not accurate. Therefore I would respectfully request this committee set the proper precedent by holding our candidates and elected officials to a high standard.”
While acknowledging Holt’s assertions about his expenses, Hahn said the original expense report was an oversight. He failed to include signs and brochures paid for by his family.
“Most of what Dan Holt said is true. I did receive signs and brochures from family members,” said Hahn. “At the time when I was filling out my paperwork I asked them what they were worth, and family being family, they told me that they were free. Obviously that’s not true, and I didn’t bother to expand on that or look into farther, and that would be my own fault.”
A revised statement includes $1,921 for signs, the cost split evenly between his father, mother and sister. As well, brochures and flyers were printed at a cost of $962.76, split evenly between his father-in-law and mother-in-law.
Split like that, no one person contributed more than the legal maximum of $750 to his campaign.
Although he prepared a new expense report, the committee did not accept the document.
Committee member Bob Williams noted the group’s task was to look at the circumstances around Hahn’s original filing. Looking at the expense form, Williams asked Hahn to read the instructions at the top of the page.
“You signed a document with that instruction back in February. Why is it an oversight that you didn’t follow the instructions that were clearly printed on the document?” he asked.
Questioned further, Hahn said he had received some instruction from staff, along with a flash drive containing information and forms, but did not attend an instructional seminar.
“Did you read the rules?” asked Carl Zehr, the former Kitchener mayor who was elected chair of the seven-member committee at the start of the meeting.
“I did read those rules. I certainly didn’t read all of the rules – that’s obvious,” responded Hahn.
That was a “big problem” for committee member Larry Aberle.
“A lot of people perceive politicians as constantly trying to dodge the rules, and that’s what this comes across as very, very clearly, he said.
“When you run for office, you’ve got some obligations, and one of them is you’ve got to follow the rules that, quite frankly, aren’t that onerous. I’m trying to grasp [how] this is an oversight.”
Hahn reiterated that the filing was a simple mistake with no intent to skirt the rules.
“I didn’t do this for personal gain. I wasn’t trying to get ahead. I wasn’t cheating on my election. I followed the rules of the election to the point of filing, and that’s where the mistake was made.
“I thought what I did was right,” he said, noting he realized subsequently that it was wrong.
While MECAC members won’t be meting out a punishment – a decision about whether to go ahead with an audit is expected on Monday, however – Hahn could face a fine of up to $25,000, six months in jail or forfeiture of his council seat under the Elections Act rules.
For Elmira resident Richard Clausi, one of three delegations who addressed the committee, the fine and jail time are excessive, but Hahn should forfeit his office.
“The councillor seeks forgiveness, but that precedent would indicate that compliance is optional until someone makes the supreme effort to check. The potential jail time and fines seem extreme – up to $25,000. Yet, this is not a speeding ticket where paying a fine buys absolution and forgiveness. Nor can you volunteer to drive through the speed trap again to ‘undo’ the offence,” said Clausi.
“I appeal to you to set a clear ethical standard at the municipal level, as it is here that the roots of democracy are nurtured. Forfeiture of office will indicate that if you do not follow the rules, you lose the game.”
Mayor Sandy Shantz spoke in support of Hahn, a character witness of sorts, praising his work as a councillor. As with Hahn’s new expense report, however, Williams noted that wasn’t relevant to the proceedings.
“Our issue here is not about how Mr. Hahn has performed as a councillor, but a report that he filed and signed as being truthful.”
The committee – rounded out by Kevin Bambrick, Tom Jutzi, Murray Stoddart and Grace Sudden – will meet in closed session Monday morning to get some legal advice before resuming again in public at 10 a.m.