London mayor's expenses raise eyebrows

London Mayor Joe Fontana. (MIKE HENSEN/QMI AGENCY)

London Mayor Joe Fontana. (MIKE HENSEN/QMI AGENCY)

PATRICK MALONEY and DEBORA VAN BRENK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:12 PM ET

The austerity-preaching mayor who rode tax-freeze promises into office and is now criminally charged with misusing public dollars has logged some eyebrow-raising expenses on the city's tab since winning the job in 2010.

Prompted by the RCMP probe into how his son's 2005 wedding reception was paid for when Joe Fontana was a Liberal MP and cabinet minister, QMI Agency used the municipal freedom-of-information law to examine many of Fontana's public expenses during his first two years as mayor -- and came away with several questions the embattled politician refuses to answer.

Though nothing in the documents suggests city spending rules were skirted, some expenses are surprising, such as two dinners, together costing taxpayers almost $900, that were billed as meals for four plus the mayor.

They were donated by Fontana as part of two charity auctions, then claimed back as part of his business expenses.

Other unexpected expenses were:

--two Sunday brunches, each costing more than $200, one of which included children's meals

--a $50 basket of chocolate-dipped strawberries and bananas to a hospitalized local TV reporter

--a $112 dinner at Auberge du Petit Prince restaurant on the July 1st holiday weekend in 2011

Already drawing fire is a $236.31 dinner Fontana had at the swish Black Trumpet on May 13, 2011, with former federal Liberal colleague Stan Keyes, now head of something called the Canadian Payday Loan Association, which bills itself as a "national trade association" representing more than 750 businesses in the payday loan (or cheque-cashing) industry.

The meal was classified in records as "entertainment" and paid through Fontana's city-issued credit card.

In his expense records, it's clearly indicated Fontana dined with Keyes in his capacity with "payday loans."

Why, one politician asks, would taxpayers pay for the mayor to dine with a lobbyist?

"For us to pay for the mayor to meet with any lobbyist is shocking, to say the least," said Coun. Joni Baechler. "But to pay for a lobbyist whose industry reaps benefits off those who can't afford to pay their bills is appalling.

"If the mayor wants to have (a meal) with a former colleague that's a lobbyist, he should do it on his own dime."

City expense records show Fontana has stayed well within his annual expense limits -- including for entertainment, travel, professional fees and petty cash -- and that none of his personal expenses exceeded $500.

Fontana said Thursday he's innocent of three criminal charges relating to the $1,700 down payment for his son's 2005 wedding reception: fraud under $5,000, uttering forged documents and breach of trust by a public officer.

Calls to Fontana on Friday were not returned. patrick.maloney@sunmedia.ca

deb.vanbrenk@sunmedia.ca


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