There was high drama on Brampton City Council last week when six city councillors intentionally skipped out of the February 9th City Council Meeting. A closed meeting was then orchestrated by the same councillors on Friday where the city’s top bureaucrat, CAO David Barrick was replaced. Paul Morrison, the City’s Director of By-Law was unanimously chosen by council as the Interim-CAO.
Barrick was hired after a unanimous 11-0 vote in 2019 by the current city council members. Shortly after the hiring, journalists and a citizen’s group from St. Catherine’s began a campaign to raise concerns about Barrick’s history in the Niagara Region. Ward 3/4 Councillor Jeff Bowman said after he approved Barrick’s hiring that he didn’t know about the CAO’s controversial past. Clearly, Bowman and other councillors didn’t conduct even the simplest of online searches before making the most important hiring decision for the city. Now, with six councillors having changed their minds, the city is liable for huge severance costs, an unsettling reset of city priorities, and political jockeying as we approach a municipal election in October.
From all indications, the six councillors (Bowman, Dhillon, Fortini, Medeiros, Whillans and Williams) have been trying to oust the CAO since earlier in 2021 when allegations were made regarding hiring practices under Barrick. An investigation by Deloitte at the direction of Council was concluded in September 2021 after finding little evidence to substantiate the allegations and costing taxpayers over $500,000.
The six councillors that brought city hall to a grinding halt last week issued a letter claiming authoritarian behaviour by Mayor Patrick Brown and that certain senior staff had taken a “blowtorch” to the rules that govern the city. The Councillors gave no example of how the rules were broken other to say that “basic democratic procedures were blocked”. While there was no senior staff mentioned in the letter, it is clear now that David Barrick was being referenced.
The six councillors were upset about long held procedural bylaws in Brampton that requires a two-thirds vote to reopen decisions that were previously dealt with during this term of council. The six councillors have now started the process of changing the procedure bylaws so that previously dealt with items can be reopened by a simple majority vote. Now that the CAO has been removed, what else are the majority six planning to do? They have not publicly posted any information about their motives or plans and questions are being raised about the group meeting in private. According to the Municipal Act, a quorum of council members (50% plus one) cannot meet privately to discuss city business.
Barrick guided the city to 4 years of 0% tax rate increases, oversaw a record $117M to reserves and designated $62.5M for the Peel Memorial Hospital expansion. He maintained the cities S&P Triple A credit rating and guided the city to the Forbes Canada’s Best Employers 2021 list. He also helped achieve a Distinguished Budget Presentation Award from the Government Finance Officers Association of the U.S and Canada. Other than political commenters and a former journalist, there are very few residents who have specific issues with decisions made by Barrick and the direction the city was headed during his tenure. The six councillors leading the change in management have all gone along with the most consequential decisions, particularly on freezing the city’s tax rate, yet many have publicly criticized not increasing taxes to fund infrastructure and future planning.
It is unclear why the six councillors would provoke this unprecedented move just 10 weeks away from a municipal election being called and while COVID restrictions continue to affect operations. David Barrick has earned over $300,000 a year and there was no mention of what severance package he will walk away with. The former CAO Harry Schlange made headlines last year when it was discovered that Brampton continued to pay him over $300,000 a year since his departure in 2018.
The CAO’s position has become a revolving door in Brampton and this latest change will not help instill confidence from investors, business or city staff. As it is now a municipal election year, any final decision to hire a permanent CAO should be left for the newly elected council. Three of the six councillors driving the agenda now are embroiled in their own issues. Ward 9/10 Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon will face stiff competition this election after being found guilty of violating the city’s Code of Ethics in sexual assault allegations after a damning audio recording was reviewed. Ward 7/8 Councillor Charmaine Williams is also the nomination candidate for Doug Ford’s Conservative Party and will be running in the provincial election in June. Ward 3 / 4 Councillor Jeff Bowman is also in the hot seat for budgeting $1M for the construction of a replica barn on the Bovaird House property without basic due-diligence and public consultation.
Who is instigating this chaos just when we were all seeing the city finally getting on track and ditching our division? Only the six councillors know for sure, and they aren’t speaking publicly. Could it be a power play for one of them to run for Mayor, or is it simply to seize power? A federally funded blog run by a former journalist is cheerleading the division. Remember the headlines that brought down former Mayor Susan Fennel. Remember the despise of Mayor Linda Jeffery by a faction of councillors during her tenure last term? Mayor Patrick Brown and the four councillors not involved in last week’s coup attempt are now being targeted. There is speculation that a retired councillor is pulling the strings and considering a run for Mayor. Things could get even more heated should a window open for Brown to become the federal Conservative leader.
Once again, the factions on council have become the focus. Internal haggling and external interference exposes the reality that some don’t like Mayor Patrick Brown. They don’t like that the city’s profile is raised on a national stage on a regular basis, that people from cultures and religions from across the world are acknowledged, and that leadership means standing up publicly and being open for criticism (Mayor Brown appears monthly on BNOW.ca with Michael A. Charbon. Anyone has access to raise their concerns, ask questions and be critical on any subject matter.)
If you want to be Mayor, don’t work behind the scenes and attempt a coup. Put your name on the ballot and ask Brampton voters to support your ideas.