News

Petrowski hasn’t paid legal costs to Region

By Grant LaFleche, The Standard

St. Catharines Regional Coun. Andy Petrowski, at the Niagara Regional Council meeting on July 23, 2015. Mike DiBattista/Niagara Falls Review/Postmedia Network  

St. Catharines Regional Coun. Andy Petrowski, at the Niagara Regional Council meeting on July 23, 2015. Mike DiBattista/Niagara Falls Review/Postmedia Network  

Niagara Region has yet to collect the $5,500 in legal costs the courts ordered St. Catharines Regional Coun. Andy Petrowski pay after a failed attempt to sue the Region, but a new policy might allow the municipality to finally collect those costs.

During Thursday’s night’s council meeting, acting corporate services commissioner Jason Burgess said he had chosen not to attempt to collect the money because he feared Petrowski - who filed for and was reimbursed $44,571 for legal costs connected to integrity commissioner findings against him in May - would get that money back from the Region.

“Without an expense policy and if attempt to recoup costs from a councillor, that councillor could in theory claim that as a councillor expense, and if (we) don’t have any authority to reject that expense all we will have done is recoup that expenses that were then charged back to the corporation,” Burgess said “I have informed staff that until I have clarity on what is eligible or not eligible as an expense for a councillor I will not pursue that action at this time.”

At that meeting, council passed an interim expense policy that, among other restrictions, prohibits councillors from claiming as an expense “legal costs arising from or in any way related to complaints under the Code of Conduct.”

In an interview Friday, Burgess said the new policy gives regional staff the authority to review and reject councillor expense claims, an option which he said staff did not have before. At the very least, he said, staff can forward an expense claim to regional council for a final decision.

In light of the new policy, Burgess said collection of the court-awarded costs will be reviewed.

In May a judge ordered Petrowski, along with Fort Erie resident Fred Bracken, to pay the Region $5,500 in legal costs after Petrowski took most of council to court in a failed attempt to block the release of integrity commissioner’s reports that found he had violated council’s code of conduct on three occasions.

Then-interim integrity commissioner John Mascarin investigated three complaints against Petrowski - two about his tweets and one about his conduct during a public meeting.

In finding that Petrowski had violated the code of conduct, Marscarin said the councillor’s behaviour was “puerile, disdainful, insulting, amateurish, ridiculous,” and “odious.”

Just prior to the release of Mascarin’s reports, Petrowski and Bracken took 24 of Niagara’s 31 regional councillors to court, claiming the reports violated his rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and hurt Petrowski’s future job prospects.

The only councillors not named in Petrowski’s suit were Regional Chair Alan Caslin, Port Colborne Coun. David Barrick, Niagara Falls Couns. Bart Maves and Selina Volpatti, Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekop and Fort Erie Coun. and Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority chair Sandy Annunziata.

The judge threw the case out of court, and ordered Petrowski and Bracken to pay the Region $5,500 for legal costs.

Much of Thursday’s meeting orbited around the issue of Petrowski’s legal expenses.

He billed the Region for more than $49,000 for consulting with Toronto family law attorney Elaine Gordon about the integrity commissioner’s reports. The Region paid Petrowski $44,571 of that claim. During Thursday’s meeting, Burgess said the expenses were paid because there was no policy to give staff the authority to reject them.

Petrowski also billed Niagara taxpayers for his trips to the Welland courthouse to sue his fellow councillors, several meetings with Caslin and for three trips for “legal meetings” in Mississauga about the integrity commissioner’s reports.

Fort Erie Regional Coun. Sandy Annunziata has also come under scrutiny for billing taxpayers thousands of dollars to travel to Toronto to appear on a talk-radio program. He billed the Region $4,100 in 2015 for travelling to Toronto to appear on the radio show. He has appeared frequently on the show in 2016 and 2017.

The interim expense policy places few limits on travel expenses. It says councillors must use “the most economical and efficient mode of transportation,” but doesn’t define what kind of trips constitute official council business.

Although his appearances are not official council business, Annunziata has defended the claims saying he promotes Niagara on the show, which isn’t about the region, whenever he gets the chance.

 



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