Sandy Shantz cleared her first hurdle of the week Monday as a review committee rejected a request for an audit of the Woolwich mayor’s election expense claims.
It was the second kick at the can for applicant Alan Marshall, whose previous filing had seen Shantz removed from office temporarily, but resulted in no action from the Municipal Election Compliance Audit Committee (MECAC). The Elmira resident’s actions had Shantz back in court Wednesday, however.
At the Oct. 26 hearing, MECAC members were unequivocal in dismissing Marshall’s claims for a forensic audit, chastising him for his handling of the matter and his inflammatory written submissions and comments. Members were unanimous in citing as minor the errors and omissions in Shantz’s original and subsequent updated expense reports related to last year’s municipal election.
“In my opinion these changes aren’t material in amount,” said committee member Kevin Bambrick of the changes and revisions Shantz made to her initial filing.
He went on to make a detailed assessment and dismissal of Marshall’s claims.
“A compliance audit, I do not feel, would reveal any significant errors, there’s no significant omissions, and I don’t believe there’s any criminal activity here. I don’t think there’s going to be any new information,” added Larry Aberle.
Prior to voting to deny the request for an audit, many of the members voiced concerns about Marshall’s assertions about conspiracies and cover-ups in relation to the lack of action taken against Shantz. In his application, follow-up emails and remarks at Monday’s meeting, Marshall made assertions that clearly rankled.
“Citizens are already disgusted with two decisions you’ve made, one regarding mayor Shantz and the other regarding Coun. (Scott) Hahn. A third bad call and you will demonstrate your apparent disregard for the role you are intended to serve in ensuring that the election laws are followed rather than conveniently ignored,” Marshall asserted Monday.
Committee members rejected Marshall’s words and tone, however.
“I believe that this is not an appropriate manner for a citizen, a concerned citizen to bring public business before a body of this kind,” said Bob Williams in rejecting Marshall’s “utterly unsupportable” claims.
For Murray Stoddart, Marshall’s “disrespectful and sarcastic manner” were indicative of the weakness of his case and arguments. “There’s no substance or merit to this application.”
That the process has been used this way by Marshall indicates the province is on the right track in reviewing provisions of the Municipal Elections Act, added Williams, a retired political science professor. He noted that MECAC is charged with acting on reasonable grounds for an audit, likening Marshall’s bid to a “fishing expedition.”
“‘We’ll get the compliance auditors to come in, see if they can find something else, because we think it’s out there.’ That to me is not reasonable grounds to expend funds to find something we already have,” he said in dismissing calls for an audit. “I don’t really believe that the case has been made that we require further review.”
The decision was a vindication for Shantz, clearly exasperated with the way the process has dragged on.
“I’m not happy that we had to do this again,” she said of a second MECAC hearing, calling the situation a personal issue for Marshall.
She, too, pointed to the need for changes to the elections act, particularly in making forms clearer for candidates when filing expense reports.
Like some of the MECAC members, she noted that there has to be a public process to ensure accountability, but without being open to the tactics being used by Marshall.
“While this application is personally disheartening, I hope the process is not tainted in the public eye. I would not want any citizen to be dissuaded from filing a reasonable application,” said Stoddart.
Nov. 10 is the deadline for filing a court appeal of MECAC’s decision.