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Woolwich resident urges reform in wake of council election expense woes

An Elmira resident who’s been following the election expense woes that have landed half of Woolwich council in hot water has a few suggestions for local officials. Well, 10 of them, in fact, applicable to ongoing provincial discussions about reform of the Municipal Elections Act (MEA).

Richard Clausi has sat through the Municipal Election Compliance Audit Committee (MECAC) hearings for Coun. Scott Hahn and Mayor Sandy Shantz, and followed the court bids for the reinstatement of both Shantz and Coun. Mark Bauman, both removed from office for failing to file proper expense reports.

“As we know, half of this council have had encounters of the worst kind with the MEA. As we move forward into the future, it is a good idea to examine the problems and try to understand what went wrong so we do not repeat past mistakes,” he said in addressing councillors August 25.

“As often happens, people defensively blame the MEA for being ‘grey’ and ‘confusing.’ And vague. I respectfully suggest that the requirements of the MEA are clear and understandable for almost all candidates in Ontario. Any ‘grey’ is an optical illusion, and in the eyes of the beholder.”

Clausi pointed to Shantz’s case as proof the system needs more transparency and accountability. He argued the audit committee should not have accepted revised, after-the-fact paperwork from the mayor, who missed the filing deadline. The township, he added, should have taken some action when Shantz went to court to seek reinstatement instead of having just one side represented before the judge.

“Imagine a courtroom with a prosecutor and a defence lawyer with this wrinkle – the prosecutor is told ‘do not present evidence, do not present factum or testimony from the complainant and, by the way, be totally neutral and say nothing.’ Unbelievable, yet that is what this council instructed their lawyers to do when two offending councillors applied for reinstatement. With no counterpoint, there was no due process, and the judge ruled the only way he could: reinstatement. For sports fans, this is called throwing the game,” he said. Taking an active role in such cases was among the recommendations he submitted.

Reviewing the court documents, Clausi noted Shantz claimed she submitted an audited statement to MECAC on June 29 even though committee members seemed to be getting the document just prior to a July 2 hearing.

“Are you telling me that you perjured yourself?” he asked Shantz.

Clearly taken aback, Shantz said the date given to the court was an error, one she raised with her lawyer who was to talk to the judge about it.

Among Clausi’s other recommendations are that staff in the clerk’s office receive more training prior to each election and that instruction sessions for prospective councillors, especially first-time candidates, be made mandatory.

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