In stunning move Brampton Councillors skip meeting, allege democracy 'under siege’; Patrick Brown called ‘authoritarian’ & Ombud asked to investigate
Ahead of the October 24 municipal election, The Pointer is republishing articles highlighting Patrick Brown’s destructive leadership since becoming Brampton’s mayor. This article was originally published February 10, 2022.
After more than two years of controversy that has shaken the foundation of local government, a majority of Brampton councillors have just released an extraordinary joint statement, warning that democracy in Brampton is “under siege”.
Good governance and majority rule have disappeared, and it is Mayor Patrick Brown who is running council like an “authoritarian” leader, they allege.
Brown was accused during a special council meeting Tuesday evening of blocking votes from taking place after staff routinely force decisions behind closed doors where the public cannot see what is going on. The Ontario Ombudsman has now been called in to investigate.
On an eleven member council, the majority of members, a bloc of six, alleged Brown is claiming they need a two-third majority to bring certain motions forward, refusing to allow resolutions onto the floor for a vote.
They allege Brown is categorizing motions as “reconsideration” matters, meaning they are revisiting a specific decision that has already been made through an earlier vote, and therefore require a two-third majority to proceed, even if the new motions are not the same and should only require a majority to be brought forward.
It was clear that one of the votes being blocked by Brown during closed sessions involved the employment of controversial CAO David Barrick, the city’s top bureaucrat whose hiring was orchestrated by the mayor despite the man’s checkered past, his involvement in a scandal that rocked Niagara Region, his firing from a local agency there and his complete lack of experience, having never even run a small municipal department, much less the ninth largest city in Canada.
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown has been accused by a majority of council members of subverting the democratic process.
(Screenshot from City of Brampton live stream)
The meeting ran past 11 p.m. and the next morning, before releasing their statement, the six councillors refused to attend a scheduled council meeting Wednesday, which then had to be cancelled due to a lack of quorum.
Councillors Jeff Bowman, Martin Medeiros, Charmaine Williams, Gurpreet Dhillon, Doug Whillans and Pat Fortini all signed the letter after refusing to attend Wednesday’s meeting, following the heated special session Tuesday evening, which was requested by the same six members.
An item on the special meeting agenda that was included on the closed meeting portion (meaning it had to be dealt with in-camera, away from the public) dealt with a staffing matter, regarding a specific individual, who was not identified.
But during the open session that preceded the matter, it was made clear that clarification about the two-third majority issue was being sought so a matter regarding Barrick could be properly dealt with once the meeting moved behind closed doors.
It’s unclear what happened next, but the open letter the following day from the same six members who called the special meeting, states: “This Tuesday evening's Special Council meeting is a clear indication that a dangerous precedent has been set where the majority of Council is unable to be the voice of the community as their elected representatives.
The majority of Council demands a fair and democratic process where every Councillor’s vote has equal value. We refused to attend Wednesday's Council meeting, which subsequently could not take place. We are now preparing a number of legislative actions aimed at restoring justice and democracy in the great city of Brampton.”
Since taking over control of Brampton’s administration Barrick’s conduct has provoked anger around the council table, and a scathing set of allegations by a senior staffer that were investigated, revealing the CAO had completely disregarded rules around hiring, came up with his own policies on the fly and recruited individuals who were completely unqualified for their roles—two staffers with zero experience in engineering were hired by Barrick for two senior engineering positions.
Brown has repeatedly defended Barrick and now appears to be preventing a majority of council members from taking action against the CAO brought to Brampton by the mayor.
“It is clear there is a cabal at the City of Brampton,” Councillor Martin Medeiros told The Pointer Wednesday, shortly before the statement was released. “Yesterday was an extremely sad day at City Hall—the lack of democracy and shameful lack of action from some of my colleagues.”
The Ontario Ombudsman, under a motion Medeiros brought forward Tuesday evening during the open session of the meeting, will be asked to investigate how recent closed-session council decisions have been governed.
Councillor Martin Medeiros led the charge at Tuesday’s meeting, repeatedly pressing Mayor Brown and the city clerk for answers to procedural questions.
(Screenshot from City of Brampton live stream)
“As six councillors representing the majority of Council, we can no longer continue to stay quiet while the City is under a cloud of potential financial and administrative mismanagement,” the open letter from the six members states.
The statement crystalizes comments made by the councillors Tuesday evening. Medeiros summed up the mood when he said council was under “an almost authoritarian rule” under the “chair” (Brown) that stopped the majority from making decisions.
The six councillors who refused to attend council Wednesday morning repeatedly asked questions the night before about how they could fulfil their democratic duties if the meeting chair (Brown) did not follow the City’s rules, or allow a majority of members to challenge and overturn his decisions that prevented votes from coming forward. A challenge to the chair only requires a majority of council members to support the action in order to strike down a chair’s ruling.
Brown responded but attempted to skirt the issue, repeatedly playing the cheerleader role in front of the public, downplaying the anger in the room and trying to suggest members focus on getting along.
“I try my best as chair to administer our procedural bylaw,” he said.
Brown did not respond to questions from The Pointer Wednesday asking him to address the allegations that he is an authoritarian who is disregarding basic democratic process.
The concerns from council members rained down thick and fast. Medeiros led the charge, armed with a legal opinion from an external expert who made clear that the role of the City Clerk is to enforce the rules of order under the Municipal Act and the City’s procedural bylaws.
City Clerk Peter Fay did not make things easy, repeatedly showing weakness, refusing to take control of the issue by simply following exactly what the City’s own rules state.
He essentially left the door open for allowing Brown to do whatever he wants as chair, if he deems a two-third majority is needed to take action on matters.
“If we do a point of order and you (City Clerk, Peter Fay) say that is a properly placed point of order and if the chair simply does not want to listen to you, simply does not want to follow our own procedural bylaw, what in effect can we do?” Medeiros asked. “Do we have to call security? What do we do?”
He later turned his attention to Barrick, when addressing who should be in the closed session.
“Who decides, city clerk, who can remain in a room during closed session?” Medeiros asked, as he read from the legal opinion he had obtained. “The CAO does have that authority, but when we’re discussing, directly, the CAO, it’s council—on legal advice—who determines by simple majority who is in fact in that group.”
No one in the room, including the clerk, Brown or the City’s solicitor, Sameer Akhtar, refuted that the matter to be discussed in closed session was about Barrick.
Two closed session items on the January 26 meeting agenda led to councillors storming out, breaking quorum. One of the items dealt with “personal matters about an identifiable individual, including municipal or local board employees”. The only closed session item on Tuesday’s special council meeting agenda was on a matter with the exact same description as the January 26 “personal” matter involving an employee.
City Solicitor Sameer Akhtar (top) and City Clerk Peter Fay were questioned by councillors.
(Screenshot from City of Brampton live stream)
Ontario’s Ombudsman will now be asked to investigate that meeting.
The controversies surrounding Barrick at City Hall have been numerous. Before arriving in Brampton, he was implicated in a scandal that rocked Niagara Region. He was a central figure in the Ontario Ombudsman “Inside Job” investigation report that revealed a fraudulent hiring process and corrupt behaviour by another senior staffer at Niagara Region, who now also holds a senior position inside Brampton City Hall.
Jason Tamming and Barrick have been connected through Conservative political circles directly tied to Brown for years. Tamming secretly gave the questions and answers for Niagara’s CAO hiring process to one of the candidates, who was Barrick’s boss when he simultaneously served as a Niagara Region councillor and at the local conservation authority, headed by Carmen D’Angelo, who eventually got the Niagara CAO job.
The investigation revealed Barrick pressured a senior staffer to support his boss during the hiring process, and promised the employee that he would have influence with the new CAO if he supported the scheme.
“The Regional Municipality of Niagara’s 2016 CAO hiring process was an inside job, tainted by the improper disclosure of confidential information to a candidate – a candidate who was ultimately successful and became the region’s most senior administrator,” Ombudsman Paul Dubé wrote in his 2019 investigation report.
Both Barrick and Tamming were fired from their positions.
Under Brown’s leadership, both were hired in Brampton shortly after. Tamming is the head of strategic communications, culture and events, for a city he has little familiarity with. Barrick also had never lived or worked in Brampton before.
As media reports detailed the anger in Port Colborne, which he represented at the region, over his behaviour, including widespread mismanagement of the conservation authority which he briefly took over after his boss there got the Niagara CAO job, Barrick did not seek re-election in 2018. After news broke of the hiring scandal and following a series of controversies at the conservation authority, he was fired by its board.
Then, in a bizarre twist, he was briefly rehired before walking away in 2019. A damning report by the Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk, concluded that his original hiring at the agency was not handled properly.
Under Brown, Brampton hired three men tainted by the Niagara scandal: Barrick, Tamming and Robert D’Amboise who works under Barrick.
Brown and Barrick have been linked since the controversial CAO was recruited to lead Brampton’s 4,000-plus staff despite having no relevant experience. Barrick had never led a department, let alone a city the size of Brampton before he was anointed as the City’s top civil servant. He has no business or finance experience and has never worked in the planning field. He was a small town councillor, now running a city administration on behalf of 700,000 residents.
The City of Brampton spent just over $30,000 in fees hiring the disgraced former Niagara employee. He earned $322,000 in 2020 according to Ontario’s public sector salary disclosure, including taxable benefits.
Mayor Brown directed the hiring of Barrick, documents show.
Feldman Daxon Partners Inc. was contracted in 2019 to find Brampton’s new CAO. It recommended Barrick despite years of media reports highlighting his behaviour in Niagara. Invoices from Feldman Daxon for the former CAO’s hiring were carbon copied to Babu Nagalingam, the mayor’s chief of staff.
Barrick and Brown are linked through Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff Guy Giorno. Brown has stated that the two were very close friends since he was a teenager. Barrick hired Giorno to handle undisclosed legal work during his controversial time as head of the conservation agency.
Barrick and Brown are also linked to former Conservative Niagara-area MP Rick Dykstra, who was part of the same Conservative cabal as Barrick which citizens in the region fought to defeat, in an effort to push back against the scandals that had plagued Niagara. Dykstra was Brown’s close friend in Ottawa, when both were young MPs, and he served as the Ontario PC Party president when Brown was its leader. Both men stepped down following allegations of sexual misconduct. They both deny the allegations.
At an August 2019 Brampton special council meeting called by the mayor, Brown made his move to get Barrick the CAO job. He presented a motion that gave his office the power to select the recruitment firm to hire the CAO, noting that as mayor he serves “as the chair of the committee” doing the hiring. Nowhere in the Municipal Act does it specify who is to lead the search committee for the CAO’s hiring.
Closed session minutes from the August meeting show Odgers Berndtson, one of the world’s largest search firms, was originally asked to complete the hiring, but it was later claimed that the firm was “no longer available”. At the next council meeting the firm was dropped. Minutes from the closed session of the September 11, 2019 City Council meeting show Feldman Daxon would be used instead.
Information obtained by The Pointer suggests Barrick, Brown’s preferred choice, was always destined for the CAO job.
The interview process for the new CAO took place at the Hilton Garden Inn in Brampton on October 17 and 18, 2019. All selected candidates were invited and put through extensive rounds of questioning. According to documents, the interview process concluded at 5 p.m. on Friday, October 18; on the same day the City announced Barrick’s hiring.
The firm hand-picked by Brown failed to inform the hiring committee, comprised of council members, about any of Barrick’s past conduct, and recommended him despite having zero experience.
A little more than two years later, after a string of controversies inside Brampton City Hall, the same councillors misled about Barrick during the hiring process, after Brown insisted he was the right man for the job, now appear to be taking bold action.
They rounded on Brown and his allies on council—Michael Palleschi, Rowena Santos, Harkirat Singh and Paul Vicente—for blocking the will of the majority. “We might as well go home and save taxpayers $1.5 million per year because we’ve got no say here,” Fortini said.
Councillor Pat Fortini was one of the members flabbergasted at the erosion of democracy inside Brampton City Hall.
(Screenshot from City of Brampton live stream)
“I'd hate to think that it's deliberate, that there's been a misinterpretation of rules or there's been pressure… for that interpretation,” Medeiros said. He and the other five councillors pressed the City solicitor and clerk for answers as to why a majority of councillors could not even bring motions forward for a vote during closed sessions. Akhtar has routinely pressured councillors to do their business in closed session, behind closed doors, even instructing them that matters should begin in closed session and then can be brought out into the open if it’s decided there is no need for confidentiality. The rules around this are clear, his advice is backward: unless it’s obvious that an issue involves the need for secrecy, council is to begin in open session, then determine through debate whether members should go in camera (closed session) under rules laid out in provincial legislation.
Akhtar repeatedly showed on Tuesday that he is not familiar with relevant legislation that is central to his job, and had to refer to the clerk on matters around procedure.
“Watching the Special council meeting probably confused many residents, including myself,” Chris Bejnar, co-founder of local advocacy group Citizens For a Better Brampton, told The Pointer Wednesday in an email.
“Are there not clear rules already in place determined by the Ontario Municipal Act that prevent interpretation?
Have any of Council’s decisions, which would normally represent a majority 6-5 vote, been manipulated over this term due to an undemocratic misinterpretation of the rules, claiming that a 2/3 majority was required when it wasn’t?”
He says the disturbing conduct he witnessed during the Tuesday special meeting needs to be investigated immediately.
“This requires urgent attention from the Province so that any doubts/questions can be quickly addressed.”
The council divide: on the left, Councillors Rowena Santos, Michael Palleschi, Harkirat Singh and Paul Vicente are aligned with Mayor Patrick Brown, while Councillors Gurpreet Dhillon, Jeff Bowman, Pat Fortini, Doug Whillans, Charmaine Williams and Martin Medeiros are trying to restore democracy inside City Hall.
(Screengrabs from City of Brampton/Photos from The Pointer files)
Todd Letts, the president of Brampton’s Board of Trade, which represents hundreds of business members across the city, pointed to good governance, transparency and stability as the underpinning of effective local government.
“With an election looming, I anticipate big changes at City Hall this year,” he told The Pointer. “I view this week’s Council meetings as part and parcel of growing pains for Canada’s ninth largest city. At this time in the City’s history, we expect councillors to ask as many questions as they need, procedural and otherwise, to remain accountable, and to meet our business community’s standards and expectations.”
The confrontation has been brewing for some time; early signs of a power shift on council were clear during the budget deliberations at the end of 2021. A vote about how to fund a heritage initiative supported by Bowman was fought furiously by Santos and was resolved in favour of Bowman and the bloc of six, after Brown had enjoyed the same slim majority support until Councillor Fortini recently aligned with those now fighting for transparency and due process.
“It seems to me that for the longest time there’s been bloc voting on council,” Peter Howarth, the founding chair of the Brampton Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) chapter, representing some 3,000 members, said. He mentioned concerns about how Brampton’s budget was conducted, after the Board of Trade sent a blistering letter, stating the budget under Barrick was such a mockery, the business community had lost trust in the local government.
A presentation by the Board of Trade during the City’s 2022 budget deliberations late last year laid bare just how low City Hall has fallen in the eyes of its residents and business community. “Brampton businesses are losing confidence in the City's ability to plan because of the shifting numbers that seem to shift very quickly,” Glenn Williams, a seasoned accountant speaking on behalf of the Board of Trade, told councillors in December.
That conversation came barely three months after the culmination of an investigation into Barrick and allegations of fraudulent hiring, wrongdoing in the handling of contracts and corrupt behaviour by Brown. An investigation by Deloitte into the allegations that centred on Barrick resulted in findings delivered in September. The report cleared Barrick of the narrow issues that were probed because he had rewritten the rules and the investigators said there was nothing they could do, while many of the most alarming allegations were not dealt with.
The initial concerns were made public by Gurdeep (Nikki) Kaur, a senior staffer with the City of Brampton who was fired by Barrick the same day she released her allegations against him publicly, before she was then rehired. She had emailed alarming allegations against Barrick and Brown to staff, councillors and the media. Kaur provided screenshots and voice recordings to support many of her claims.
Kaur provided text messages from Brown sent directly to her, telling the bureaucrat to support the 2020 candidacy of Peter MacKay, who was running for the federal Conservative Party leadership at the time.
The texts show Brown was ordering staff, including Kaur, who do not even work for the mayor, to sign up memberships for MacKay during work hours, a blatant violation of the code of conduct Brown is supposed to follow, which should lead to punishment by Council. But the integrity commissioner, Muneeza Sheikh, who was also recruited by Brown and also had ties to him prior to her hiring, has failed to bring any finding forward. Brown has refused to explain why he directed City Hall staff to work for MacKay’s campaign.
Text messages from Mayor Patrick Brown to Brampton City Hall employee Nikki Kaur.
One of Kaur’s allegations revolved around Brett Bell, a longtime Conservative insider who had done social media work for political associates and was a close contact of Brown. Kaur alleged that Barrick instructed her to email one person, Bell, to develop plans for a Municipal Development Corporation (MDC), a project that would oversee the City’s large real estate portfolio, despite his lack of experience. He did not even have his company, which eventually got the contract, registered when Kaur was directed to engage him.
A message Kaur shared with The Pointer from Barrick on January 7, 2020, shows the CAO sent Kaur the name and his email address. “Contact: Brett Bell” Barrick writes in the next text, and then “Thank You!”
Kaur told The Pointer that Barrick, her boss at the time, made it clear that Bell was to get the job.
Brampton residents held a protest outside City Hall, demanding CAO David Barrick be fired after senior staffer Nikki Kaur levelled her damning accusations and released evidence of alarming behaviour by the CAO and Mayor Patrick Brown.
Barrick had taken over the project from another City department, community services, that had handled it prior to his hiring. Bell was given the contract, worth about $300,000, and council was never informed it had been handed to a man with close political ties to the Mayor.
The Pointer previously reported on the questionable procurement, and Bell stated he was contacted by City Hall on January 9, 2020, two days after Barrick sent his text messages to Kaur. Bell did not have an official company at the time and confirmed he only incorporated his consulting firm on January 11, 2020, two days after City Hall tapped him for the lucrative consulting work.
Other controversial actions taken by Barrick include:
Illegal movement of the freedom of information process away from council and under his control
Handing $218,000 in Brampton contracts to a former Niagara political ally as soon as he was hired without ever telling council
Stripping the internal audit department of its independence and putting it under his control
Hiring a staffer to “grind” employees out of City Hall
Sweeping aside dozens of staff complaints that came into the internal City Hall fraud hotline, which received 70 percent of its complaints since it was launched in 2016 during a 14-month period after Barrick was hired.
Texts between David Barrick and Nikki Kaur show the CAO's alarmingly unprofessional conduct.
The Deloitte investigation did not explore the most serious allegations brought forward by Kaur, including the orders to hire Bell and Brown’s use of staff for federal political work in support of his outside ambitions. Its findings came after investigators from the firm were unable to complete interviews. They also had access to key documents blocked, including Barrick’s WhatsApp messages, which the evidence showed he routinely used, despite requirements to communicate city business through official platforms such as City email.
Despite this, Deloitte revealed alarming behaviour by Barrick.
The report confirmed the CAO deliberately hired candidates without the relevant experience to hold key roles within City Hall. Multiple examples show Barrick subverting the hiring process to push his preferred, and under-educated, candidates into important roles paid for by taxpayers.
In July of 2020 Barrick, according to Deloitte, selected two new “Directors for departments responsible for managing critical city infrastructure.” The job postings stated that university engineering degrees were a requirement for the jobs, as well as professional accreditations that allowed them to perform or approve highly technical work. The successful candidates should have “7-10 years of managerial experience with at least 5 years of experience in project management and construction,” according to the report.
The men Barrick chose himself didn’t even have engineering degrees.
“Deloitte did not identify any indications of construction experience on either candidate’s CV," the report says. Despite his alarming conduct, Deloitte said there was nothing they could do about Barrick’s explanation that he simply changed the hiring requirements himself at the last minute and also had the authority to change policies on the fly which allowed him to override existing HR rules.
Barrick was able to change the rules he allegedly violated in real time. “Certain policies and standard operating procedures were revised or updated by the CAO contemporaneously with alleged activity,” Deloitte wrote in its report.
“It’s been disappointing what we’ve had to encounter over and over the last couple years,” Medeiros said Tuesday.
The shift around the council table has been noted in the community. “What I did see was a determination by the newly formed group of six to see this through,” CARP’s Howarth said.
The Tuesday meeting was called by the same majority of council members to address the events of January 26.
Bowman alleged his name was incorrectly called at the end of a fraught council meeting to gather quorum (a majority of council members present) to wrap up the meeting and enact its decisions. He and his five colleagues walked out in protest after a lengthy discussion that took place in closed session. His name was then included in the open session attendance despite all six of the members walking out, and a bylaw to confirm the decisions at the meeting passed without the clerk, Peter Fay, even checking properly to see if there were the six required votes. Bowman says that the entire process was wrong.
Councillor Jeff Bowman says he was incorrectly counted as being present at a council meeting on January 26.
(Screenshot from City of Brampton live stream)
“I was the one who has the issue with quorum,” Bowman said during Tuesday’s special meeting, as the other five had clearly already walked away. “When the [council] came back in, in open session, the clerk read the names and I had not signed out, I had just gone into the closed session meeting and come back. As soon as I heard my name mentioned, I signed out of the meeting, and then I sent texts to the city clerk saying I was out of the meeting.”
Despite this, he was counted as being in attendance and the events of the meeting were confirmed. It is another example of rules being subverted in Brampton, leaving the majority of six councillors unable to carry out their democratic duties for local governance.
The Ontario Ombudsman will now be asked to investigate.
Bowman, Dhillon, Fortini, Medeiros, Whillans and Williams want answers around how their meetings are being run, why they are forced to conduct matters of interest to the taxpayers away from public scrutiny, and why majority rule somehow no longer means anything in Brampton City Hall.
“Why are the other seven councillors here unless we get paid [to] say ‘Hey, we love our city’ and just get a pay cheque,” Fortini said.
The letter signed by him and the other five councillors fed up with what’s happened to local government since Patrick Brown was elected, states:
“We are now preparing a number of legislative actions aimed at restoring justice and democracy in the great city of Brampton. We will not allow others to continue to harm it. We will not give up the fight for our democracy and will always put the needs of Brampton residents first.”
The full text of the letter can be read below.
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