A recent probe into Brampton’s city hall spending by the city’s audit committee revealed a $1.25 million “slush fund” of taxpayer money that was used to pay bonuses to non-union executives.
The audit report focused on a common practice among city non-union executives called Outside Policy Requests (OPR).
The intention behind the OPR is to align salaries with performance and service level, however there is no policy in place so OPR remains an unregulated way for money to be spent outside council-approved policies.
The Brampton Guardian reports that from 2009 to 2014 senior staffers paid out $1.25 million to 167 city employees across 15 departments, maybe even to themselves.
The amounts distributed to each employee varied from $123 to a whopping $95,000, all without oversight because a formalized process for managing the money does not exist.
The slush fund money was doled out based on a number of criteria, favouritism being among listed requirements for receiving a bonus.
Mayor Linda Jeffrey told the Guardian, “This is at best serious negligence, and at worst corruption,” stating that she would explore any and all avenues to remedy the problem.
The audit showed senior leadership and executive staff at the city were well aware of the $1.25 million spent, having received a report from HR Management back in May of 2014.
It isn’t clear what repercussions, if any, will be initiated at this point. Many of the executives involved in the controversy and who approved the $1.25 million in covert bonuses handed out the staff, are no longer with the city, having been let go in a major restructuring that occurred last autumn at city hall.
Among those involved in the decision-making at the time were some of the city’s top bureaucrats including Marilyn Ball, Chief of Planning; Peter Simmons, Chief of Corporate Services; Dennis Cutajar, Chief Operating Officer; and Julian Patterson, Chief Corporate Services Officer.
At a council meeting Tuesday, first-time councillor Gurpreet Dhillon (Wards 9-10) demanded to know the names of those city staff which directly benefited from the practice. Staff stated those names would not be made public.
Meanwhile, Councillor Gael Miles, a veteran of three decades, has been accused of not doing her due diligence to scrutinize budgets presented by staff. Miles was chair of the budget committee while the $1.25 million was being covertly doled out to a select few staff.
Miles claimed in the meeting that the OPR was used as a means to adjust salaries when needed and was not illegal.
Council was seemingly unaware of the dealings, having never approved or authorized the bonuses. As Chair of the budget committee, which is tasked with approving the city’s budgets, Councillor Miles was in the best position to offer proper scrutiny of what was presented by city staff.
Staff has recommended further auditing of how the city compensates employees.
It isn’t clear yet what the city will do with the audit that has come to light, but some councillors are wary that this issue may not get the due diligence and resolution it warrants.
“I am just concerned that we don’t sweep this under the rug,” said Councillor Martin Medeiros in the meeting.
Council may decide a criminal investigation needs to be launched, though no formal decision has been made yet.