Chatham-Kent's audit committee reviews complaints made against municipal election candidates at the Civic Centre in Chatham, May 22, 2019. (Photo by Allanah Wills)

Complaints made by mayoral candidate rejected by audit committee

Chatham-Kent’s audit committee has rejected all 10 complaints made by a mayoral candidate that alleged instances of unclaimed election finances.

Robert Salvatore Powers submitted applications to the municipality in April and early May alleging that eight council candidates breached the Municipal Elections Act by not claiming financial contributions in the mandated post-election disclosure forms. The candidates he made the applications against included Penelope Duchesne, Amy Finn, Don Fuoco, Ryan Jackson, Don Leonard, Karen Kirkwood-Whyte, Brock McGregor and Larry Vellinga.

“The candidate appears to have accepted campaign contributions from Ben Labadie in excess of $100 and has not made note of them on their campaign financial statement,” Powers said about each candidate in the applications.

Powers said he considered an event hosted by Labadie at the Ten-Seven Cafe & Lounge a contribution of services. He added that the candidates “participated in a campaign event [which] included renting a space, utilizing audio video equipment, the filming and editing of high-quality professional campaign videos, the creation of a website, development of digital media content and the possibility of other people contributing their services.”

The committee, made up of citizens Mike Lowther, Mike Phipps and Dan Whittal reviewed the complaints on Wednesday night at the Civic Centre in Chatham. According to municipal clerk Judy Smith, these are the first election compliance audit applications the municipality received during the past three elections.

Powers was on hand for the meeting and, when given the chance, declined to offer any further comment about any of the applications he made. Many of the people named in the complaints were in attendance and also had little to say when offered the opportunity to speak.

Finn, who won a council seat Ward 6, said during election time, she was approached by several media outlets and never accepted any campaign contributions from Labadie. She added that, as her first time running for council, she saw Labadie’s forum as a “public service” to introduce herself to the residents of Chatham-Kent.

Powers also made similar allegations against failed mayoral hopefull Alysson Storey and took issue with her use of rented office space and her campaign website. On Wednesday Storey did not mince words when given the chance to speak against the claims and she also spoke about the alleged harassment she has been facing at the hands of Powers.

According to Storey, on election day 2018, a day she called the biggest day of her life, she had to call the police on him.

“Why was I calling the police? Because the individual filing the complaint today has been harassing me for months,” Storey said. “He harassed me almost daily online while his behaviour at the numerous mayoral debates became more and more inappropriate and erratic.”

Storey said she is still a target of harassment from Powers and believes by filing a complaint against her, he was singling her out and continuing his malicious treatment towards her. She also took a swipe at his history at filing complaints, as Powers had also unsuccessfully challenged the municipal election results for West Kent (Ward 1).

“Since this individual appears to have cherry-picked some candidates, but not others who also attended the same events, and also continues to engage the municipality in frivolous complaints, like non-existent voter fraud in West-Kent, it raises the question about his motivation,” she said.

In an effort to limit back and forth debate, the committee denied Powers’ the opportunity to reply to Storey’s allegations.

Lastly, Powers also claimed that Campaign Life Coalition, “a third party advertiser”, operated a website, a newsletter and possibly other communications which supported a number of municipal candidates.

After over two and a half hours of deliberations, the committee announced that all ten complaints were rejected, citing a lack of compelling evidence and information. The formal written reasons for the rejections are expected to come in the next few weeks.

“I think the process is one that is set out pretty clearly in the act,” said committee chair Dan Whittal. “As long as we’re following the procedure we are supposed to follow then I think it’s easy to come to a conclusion when we consider all the evidence.”

Powers had left the meeting before the decision was announced.

According to John Norton, chief legal officer for the municipality, Powers has 15 days to file an appeal.