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Cheques spur investigation

Source of leak is the real issue: city

The latest city hall skirmish has sparked an investigation into the source of an apparent leak.

Vaughan Today and other media outlets recently received an anonymous package containing photocopied city cheques totalling $35,478.20 signed by Regional Councillor Joyce Frustaglio to SLF General Contracting and Vitriflex Surfaces Inc.

The cheques, which date from August 2007, were payment for work done at public city facilities, including emergency cleaning of vandalized and dirty surfaces.

Frustaglio, who did not return calls by press time, has asked City Manager Michael DeAngelis to look into the source of the package.

“With regard to the request by Frustaglio on how the cheques were provided to the media, which is a serious matter, it will be investigated and reported to council,” he said this week.

The cheques are public information and could have been obtained through a freedom of information request, according to city spokesperson Madeline Zito.

The anonymous package also contained corporate searches linking the regional councillor’s son, Steve Frustaglio, to both companies, and an unsigned letter alleging a serious conflict of interest.

The city disagrees.

“If Joyce perceived there to be a conflict, she wouldn’t have signed the cheques,” Zito said Monday. “We do have a code of conduct for the mayor and members of council . . . and basically our code of conduct says that councillors are responsible for identifying those situations that are a conflict.

“The councillors (police) themselves, basically.”

Even so, Mayor Linda Jackson thinks provincial laws might have been broken.

“It appears there is a possible violation of the Municipal Act as it relates to conflicts of interest,” she said in a statement released late Friday afternoon.

Speaking to reporters at city hall Monday, Jackson said she learned of the Vitriflex issue from a confidential source two months ago.

“The very next day, because of the nature of it, I gave it to the city manager and the commissioner of legal and administrative services to deal with,” she said. “They came back and said there was nothing wrong.

“I want a further investigation to ensure the taxpayers of Vaughan are being well served.”

Expert says signing isn’t an issue

Municipal law expert John Mascarin, partner at Aird & Berlis LLP in Toronto, says no provincial laws were broken as far as he can tell.

“In my view, the mere signing of the cheque is no breach of anything,” he said Monday. “The signing of the cheque is quite different . . . than the authorizing of the cheque.”

As long as the work orders adhered to the city’s bylaws, Mascarin said, “it doesn’t really matter who physically signs the cheques because that’s a pure administrative act.”

The city’s purchasing department maintains a database of approved vendors and contractors with which other city departments can do business. To receive approval, a company would first need to register with the purchasing department, Zito said.

SLF and Vitriflex are both approved businesses, she said.

The cheque to SLF was payment for work authorized through six field purchase orders. Each was under $3,000.

“The department can go out and award $3,000 and under,” Zito said.

But Jackson, who says she’s talked to York police about Vitriflex, remains concerned.

“If it’s all done right and it’s fine, then it comes down to the optics,” she said. “Should (Frustaglio) be signing cheques to her son’s company?”

—With files from Corey Lewis

Vaughan Today
In print: November 28, 2008, page 1
Online: November 27, 2008 [link]