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Two of the Brampton councillors are drawing criticism for failing to disclose a conflict of interest related to a local news organization.
The accusations, related to Wards 1 & 5 local councillor Paul Vicente and Wards 1 & 5 local councillor Rowena Santos, stem from a July 10 vote to award a $150,000 contract to Brampton Focus, of which Vicente was a co-founder. The contract was given to the non-profit news organization to provide video and audio support, including livestreams of city council meetings and associated equipment.
The matter was brought to light in an official complaint to the city’s integrity commissioner by local resident Bruce Marshall, who said that Vicente is still listed on the board of directors for the news organization and should not have voted on the contract.
“I have forwarded this document to the Integrity Commissioner so that it can be authenticated by her, because taxpayers deserve to know that everything was above board in awarding this contract to Brampton Focus,” said Marshall, who indicated that the document was signed and stamped by a government official on each page. “Right now, they are not so sure.”
According to an op-ed article written by founder Michael Charbon, Brampton Focus has “no party affiliation and no council favorites… the group has delivered an independent platform that has made a significant impact on the political and media scene of Brampton.”
In a joint statement earlier this week, both Vicente and Santos stated that neither had received renumeration in their roles as volunteers for the organization. “Paul Vicente and Rowena Santos were volunteer members of the board of Brampton Focus until they officially resigned from their positions in December 2017,” the statement read.
Mayor Patrick Brown told the board that talks with Brampton Focus managers Don McLeod and Fazal Khan had been continuous for a half year, or in all respects soon after Brampton’s new council was confirmed last December. He included they had initially requested $300,000 in subsidies.
An ongoing staff report to the committee said Brampton Focus is Neighborhood Watch Brampton’s “parent organization.” The city is stressing the “network wellbeing” part of the activity as a staff report depicted the association with Brampton Focus as a chance to utilize the news source to “advance city informing.”
In a correction sent to Peel Weekly News, a spokesperson for the city stated that “on July 10, 2019, based on a request from Brampton Focus/Neighbourhood Watch, Brampton City Council passed a resolution for staff to allocate up to $150,000 from the Community Safety Project to fund the 6-month expansion of the Neighbourhood Watch Program. This is to include workshops with the captains and advocates and will be in consultation with the Community Safety Advisory Committee.”
The city’s media relations office also stated that the committee goals taught “(a) Key Communications band together with Brampton Focus, where pertinent, to give video creation and substance benefits, and guarantee the outlet proactively gets the city’s correspondences to share over their social channels as a way to improve network security.”
Despite their close ties and history with both organizations and its principals, neither Vicente or Santos declared pecuniary interests before voting to give former colleagues and the media channel they worked with a significant amount of taxpayers’ money.
Vicente was one of Brampton Focus’ founding directors, which was initiated after municipal elections in 2014 by local politicians and unsuccessful candidates. Santos served on the board of directors of the internet broadcaster until Dec. 2017.
“As Mayor, I see no conflict. They are hard-working, passionate community activists that volunteered with a not-for-profit,” said Brown.
In a statement provided to Peel Weekly News, Marshall said the document was produced on July 18, 2019, and lists a “Corporation Point in Time Report” as July 10, the date of the vote. The data suggests at least one of the councillors should have abstained from debating or voting in this issue, he said.
“Taxpayers want the Mayor and the ten city councillors to explain why they didn’t ask for a list of the Board of Directors before agreeing to hand over $150,000 of taxpayers’ money to Brampton Focus,” said Marshall.