There are some who would shoot the messenger in the current legal proceedings involving the election expense filings of two Woolwich councillors.
There is no conspiracy afoot. Frankly, in both cases those coming forward with concerns did the township a favour. Without too much hyperbole, they’ve assisted the democratic process.
In the case of Elmira resident Dan Holt, his request for an audit of Coun. Scott Hahn’s expense report is perfectly understandable: the numbers clearly didn’t make sense. Yes, Holt was a candidate in last year’s election in Ward 1, so he has the potential to benefit from Hahn’s removal, should the case go that way. But he was simply exercising his options under the rules set out for reporting expenses. Hahn, on the other hand, hadn’t followed the rules. For that, he’s paying the price.
None of this is to say Hahn was being deceitful. On the contrary, most involved in the hearings feel he simply didn’t follow instructions in completing the paperwork. That’s nothing sinister, but the error is his. And the consequences are his to bear.
With Mark Bauman’s situation, there was no formal complaint process. Rather, another Elmira citizen, Alan Marshall, pointed out that Bauman had failed to file an expense report, required under the Municipal Elections Act even though he had been acclaimed to the Ward 2 seat. Again, the blame falls on the councillor, not on the person who pointed out the error.
That said, staff also shares in the blame. Ignorance of the law is not a defence, nor has Bauman claimed as such, but again it seems to have been an honest mistake. But Bauman was not given any indication of pending default from the township clerk’s office, which appears to have been in the dark about changes to the act requiring even acclaimed candidates to file a report.
Marshall brought the matter to a head less than two months after Bauman was in default. Imagine the retroactive review of the entirety of the councillor’s voting record if this hadn’t been raised for another three years, for instance in the run-up to the next municipal election.
There is, naturally, a tendency to lump these two cases into the legal woes of former mayor Todd Cowan, who was back in court again this week, and his trial adjourned again – on fraud charges related to double billing some $2,700 in expenses to both the region and the township. Unlike Bauman, Cowan was immediately notified of his default in failing to file an election expense report by the March 27 deadline. In this instance, revelations of the billing discrepancies led to a review of accounting procedures and prompted changes to how staff, who hadn’t picked up on the problem, handle expense accounts and claims.
But that’s as far as the similarities go. Cowan’s case involves gain and intent, whereas the two councillors gained no advantage and curried no favour from their oversights. That does not negate the importance of following the rules, however.
As a member of the Municipal Elections Compliance Audit Committee noted at Hahn’s hearing, it’s important that the public see politicians are not above the law, that they have to follow the rules.
It’s telling to see just how attentive to details the candidates are, as that’s an indication to the public what kind of representation they’ve got, both from the politicians and the costly staff. In these instances, they’ve been found wanting, and we’ve got to be wary of a pattern.