Editor’s Note: This opinion by BLR resident Michael McCloskey is part of our ongoing investigation into the questionable practices arising from the collaboration of Expertise for Municipalities (E4m Solutions), Wishart Law, and Investigative Solutions Network (ISN). It is a follow-up to our article “BLR Councillor objects to high costs of Integrity Commissioner and related expenses – insists invoices be made public” published June 14 2021. Click HERE to read.
According to a report to Council by then Municipal Manager Andrew Sprunt dated April 6 of this year, $337,012.99 is what the ratepayers of the Township of Brudenell Lyndoch and Raglan have paid to its Integrity Commissioner, Expertise for Municipalities (E4m), and its business partners, Wishart Law and Investigative Solutions Network (ISN). The Current obtained copies of the relevant invoices after serving the Township with a Freedom of Information request under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Personal Privacy Act (MFIPPA). An analysis of the invoices revealed the following total payments:
Cassels Brock (agents of Wishart Law) $ 27,900.83 E4m Solutions 35,637.57 Investigative Solutions Network (ISN) 172,855.22 Wishart Law 100,619.37 TOTAL AMOUNT: $ 337,012.99
The invoices cover the period from March 2020 to December 2021, but do not include what the Township paid to E4m for the additional administrative services it provided when Andrew Sprunt acted as “municipal manager” for a six month period. He was an employee of E4m and was apparently paid $4,882.45 per month for his part-time services. “I try to limit my time at the Township office so I only come in once a week.” said Sprunt in an email to this reporter. A further request by The Current for production of invoices rendered by E4m relating to these additional services was refused.
Investigation services amounted to $172,855.22
The company that E4m invariably retains to carry out its “investigations” is the Ontario branch of Investigative Solutions Network (ISN), and specifically, former police officers based in Sudbury. (E4m is also based in Sudbury.) That company rendered invoices totalling $172,855.22 which included services described as “workplace investigations” which is presumed to refer to complaints allegedly made by members of staff against former Councillors Budarick and Lidtkie. Most of the invoices omitted any breakdown describing the number of hours and the nature of the services rendered to justify the fees charged, and were addressed to Mayor Keller, as opposed to E4m who had retained them. Here is one example which seems to suggest that $38,036.48 was charged for only one hour of investigation.
The Current’s investigation
It was revealed in a public report released by E4m dated October 6 2021 that one of the complainants resulting in the workplace investigations was then Acting Clerk-Treasurer and now mayoral candidate, Valerie Jahn. The Current has written to Keller and to Jahn seeking non-confidential information about this massive use of taxpayer funds. This included The Current questioning Jahn in an attempt to report to ratepayers the justification for paying such huge fees to a private detective agency which is known to have a close relationship with E4m. Neither Keller nor Jahn has responded.
In the same Freedom of Information request, The Current asked for disclosure of any correspondence between the Township and E4m/ISN concerning the level of fees charged, including requests for information about the amounts contained in invoices including “communications between BLR Twp and/or members of its Council and the providers of the abovementioned services relating to or discussing authorization of such expenditures including any records containing estimates for the said services before they were rendered and while they were being rendered.”
Nothing falling within that description was provided by the Township which prompted The Current to write to Sprunt asking him to confirm that this meant that E4m had in effect been given a “blank cheque” by the Township. No response was received from Sprunt concerning this.
Other municipalities have had enough
During this municipal council term (2018-22), as The Current has reported from time to time, there has been increasing concern expressed in many municipalities served by E4m and its “business partner” Wishart Law. In 2018 the City of Elliot Lake fired E4m because of the magnitude of the fees it was charging. On October 11 2022 E4m’s conduct returned to Elliot Lake Council’s agenda following demands by two members of its Council for a consideration of steps that might be taken to hold E4m accountable for its conduct. Councillor Ed Pearce did not mince words when he said, “One of the things that I am sure everyone at this table will agree on is that E4M was without a doubt the worst Integrity Commissioner we could have chosen, certainly based on the correspondence I have received from other municipalities around Northern Ontario. They have instituted a path of chaos and destruction wherever they have gone.” Councillor Chris Patrie asked Council to consider taking legal proceedings against them in an attempt to recover some of the monies paid.
Earlier this year the CAO of Iroquois Falls also did not mince words when he reported that he had peremptorily terminated that municipality’s contract with E4m, justifying it by saying “What I saw was that she was dragging these cases and so I felt that the motivation for most of these cases she was handling is the fee,” he said. “I felt that her objectivity was questionable and her integrity itself was also in question.”
A full investigation is not an option but a necessity
In an article published by The Current in April 2021, this reporter, after exposing earlier questionable conduct on the part of E4m, said the following: “[BLR] council cannot employ, and we as rate payers cannot expect to pay for, an integrity commissioner who is not fully committed to giving factual reports.” He said, “To put it bluntly, this integrity commissioner doesn’t seem to be acting with integrity. And it is an expensive irony.”
In light of these further revelations about the grossly disproportionate remuneration (taking account of BLR’s limited resources) paid to E4m by BLR ratepayers coupled with the secrecy surrounding the justification for it, I believe now as I did then that ratepayers are entitled to a full public airing which will provide much-needed transparency about these troubling matters.
At the same Council meeting in Elliot Lake, another member of Council, Luc Cyr, decried the use of integrity commissioners as “a political retaliation tool.” Does that sound like it has some relevance to the goings-on in BLR during the past Council term? It is an open secret that former Councillors Budarick and Lidtkie did not endear themselves to their fellow Councillors and members of staff because of their constant questions about the murkiness of the Township’s compliance with established rules of procedure. Also it is a matter of public record that both those former Councillors publicly complained about E4m’s fees; now they are gone and we — the ratepayers — are just now learning how much we paid for the hatchet.
Correction: This article was amended on Oct.19 to correct the names of Elliot Lake Councillors Chris Patrie and Luc Cyr. The Current apologizes for any confusion caused.