No audit of Ward 10 councillor's campaign finances, committee decides
The Compliance Audit Committee has decided it will not audit the campaign finances of Ward 10 Councillor Paul Van Meerbergen.
A campaign volunteer, Barry Phillips, has admitted to paying $1,000 of his own money to Blackridge Strategy for a website that opposed Bus Rapid Transit.
Instead, Phillips claims, it was hijacked by Blackridge to attack Van Meerbergen's opponent in the 2018 municipal election, former councillor Virginia Ridley.
Van Meerbergen reiterated to the compliance audit committee that he had no knowledge of the website and no campaign finances were used.
But he also indicated Phillips is more than just another volunteer, “He's a friend and a volunteer. He's volunteered on my campaigns since my first campaign in 2003.”
And Phillips was one of four people at the core of the campaign, “Mr. Phillips, I valued his advice, he certainly served an advisory capacity.”
A complaint was filed two weeks ago by Londoner John Hassan.
Much of Hassan's complaint focused on both Blackridge Strategy and volunteer Phillips potentially acting as third-party advertisers for their role in the website.
But two weeks ago, city council was told that the Municipal Elections Act permits audits of "registered” third parties that advertise during elections, but the act fails to authorize the committee to audit third parties that did not register.
The Association of Municipal Clerks & Treasurers will soon be forwarding a report to the province about concerns they have about the Municipal Elections Act according to city Clerk Cathy Saunders.
“They need to clarify the difference between a registered and unregistered third party and the role of the compliance committee when it is an unregistered third party.”
Hassan has the option to appeal Thursday’s decision in court, but would have to bear the legal costs himself.
”It’s an elections issue, it’s our election, it’s our process, and it’s one that needs to have full integrity and to do nothing in my mind diminishes that.”
A written decision on the matter is expected next week.