There’s more than a little bit of déjà vu involved in the stories of legal woes experienced by Woolwich council members, past and present.
Former mayor Todd Cowan was sentenced last week for his breach of trust conviction related to double billing the township and Region of Waterloo for expenses he incurred.
Current Ward 1 Coun. Scott Hahn learned that he was being summoned to court Aug. 31 in relation to his expense report from the 2014 municipal election.
Though not on the same scale, it’s an unpleasant reminder of last summer’s seemingly endless legal challenges involving Woolwich councillors.
Cowan’s issues date back to when he was still on council, the discrepancies in his expense claims leading to an investigation by the township and region, then by police before charges were ultimately laid. A long string of adjournments and courtroom no-shows – leading to not one but two arrest warrants for the former mayor – carried on through last year and into this one. With a sentence that won’t give Cowan a criminal record, that saga appears to be closed.
For Hahn, however, the grief continues.
The rookie councillor’s election expense report was the subject of several hearings by the Municipal Elections Compliance Audit Committee (MECAC), which called for a forensic audit of Hahn’s records before ultimately opting against passing the file on to prosecutors.
Now, a year later, a private citizen is looking for the Crown to pick up the pieces, filing private charges against Hahn and prompting a court hearing in a month’s time.
Elmira resident Alan Marshall used a similar tactic in bringing Mayor Sandy Shantz to court after MECAC hearings into her election expense filings. In that case, Shantz paid for her own audit and submitted new figures that were ultimately accepted by the committee without recourse to prosecutors.
Shantz was forced to go to court of her own accord early on in the proceedings to gain reinstatement to office after her original filing was deemed non-compliant. Coun. Mark Bauman, acclaimed to his seat in 2014, also went that route after Marshall notified the township the Ward 2 representative was in default of the Municipal Elections Act after failing to file an expense report.
That set up the rather embarrasing spectacle of half of Woolwich council involved in some form of legal woe, and a former mayor being tried on fraud and breach of trust charges.
In Cowan’s case, the drama that wrapped up last week was fully warranted – there were discrepancies and claims that needed to be aired. Marshall’s latest salvo aimed at Hahn can’t be justified, however.
The MECAC hearings revealed that Hahn was clearly at fault for not filing a proper election expense report, a fact he freely admitted. The subsequent auditor’s report cast considerable doubt on amended filings, but the committee found Hahn had done nothing with an intent to deceive or receive gain. He didn’t spend beyond the limits, nor did his spending and the poor reporting thereof afterwards have any real impact on the election outcome.
While Cowan’s case involved gain and intent, the three current councillors gained no advantage and curried no favour from their oversights. That does not negate the importance of following the rules, however.
As was the case with Bauman and Shantz, Hahn had to be called out for mistakes that were clearly his. That was done, as it was in the other cases. Dragging his case back into a courtroom doesn’t serve any community good.