When I attempted to track down an investigation into former Sault fire chief Mike Figliola a few weeks back, no one in officialdom would acknowledge it even existed.
But I have since learned through an impeccable source that it does indeed exist.
The complaint, which alleges that the chief billed the city travel expenses for a convention of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs he didn’t attend, went initially to city police and was looked into by two officers there.
From there it was passed on to the OPP, presumably because city police felt uncomfortable investigating the head of a sister service, and is now in the hands of a member of the Blind River detachment who is attached to the Anti-Rackets Fraud Branch.
I indicated in my column of May 24 that it had been a frustrating couple of weeks chasing two stories I knew existed but hadn’t been able to confirm.
One involved a complaint about Figliola and the second concerned the departure of Civilian Crime Analyst Stella Melanson, wife of Police Chief Robert Keetch, from the Sault Police Service.
I said in my effort to track down the two stories that I had approached the police chief, his deputy, Sean Sparling, Mayor Christian Provenzano and City Solicitor Nuala Kenny.
Keetch replied, “I am not in a position to reply in either respect.”
Sparling replied, “Unfortunately in regard to your questions on these present matters I am not in a position to comment in either respect.”
Kenny replied, “The city has not made any complaint to any agency regarding the former fire chief, Mike Figliola. Also, the city is not in receipt of any claim from Ms. Melanson.”
I didn’t get a reply from the mayor.
I thought Kenny was somewhat disingenuous in replying to my question in regard to Figliola, in essence side-stepping it.
“I am looking for answers to what the complaint is about that was originally placed in the hands of city police in regard to former fire chief Mike Figliola and was ultimately passed on to the OPP,” I had asked in my emails to her and the mayor. “My information is that he billed the city for a convention that he registered for but never attended.”
I hadn’t asked her anything about the city laying a complaint. I was simply asking for information about an issue one would think those high up in city hall would have knowledge.
I struck out when I attempted to find out from the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs if Figliola had attended the chiefs’ annual session in May 2016.
But the source I mentioned earlier in this piece, who has asked for anonymity for himself and the three officers who have been involved in the investigation, actually logged into the site and discovered that six Michaels registered but none had the last name Figliola.
Through a FOI request he discovered that Figliola had estimated the cost of attending the conference would be $1,848.75, but when he actually submitted his expense sheet he only claimed $1,030.39. He indicated the registration fee of $895 had been waived.
Figliola spent seven nights at the Best Western Hotel at the Toronto Airport for a total cost of $783.09 and also claimed $297.54 for gasoline fill-ups. He did not claim anything for meals.
Where I had approached city police on a personal basis and got nothing, my source went through Freedom of Information and although he got nothing of substance in regard to details, he did discover the file did exist and had been turned over to the OPP.
“I am requesting any and all documents, reports, statements, notes, and correspondence pertaining to the fraud investigation of Fire Chief Figliola relating to his claiming expenses for the fire chiefs’ conference on or about April 30-May 2, 2016,” he had said in his FOI request.
The police chief replied:
“With respect to your request for information regarding the investigation relating to Fire Chief Figliola’s expenses for a conference on or about April 30 to May 2, 2016. This request has been transferred pursuant to Section 18 (involvement of other institutions) of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to the Ontario Provincial Police as the institution has a greater interest in the records due to the investigation being a joint forces project and all records are held by that police service.”
That statement confirms the investigation no one, for some unexplained and unfathomable reason, would admit existed, at least to me.
But now there is another question, this one as to whether the fire chief’s use of city gasoline for personal use has become part of the investigation.
I know from a series of emails I saw that an in-house investigation into this aspect was being conducted by Chief Administrative Officer Al Horsman prior to the chief leaving city employment.
On Jan. 30, 2017, a Freedom of Information request had been filed with the city asking for the fuel log sheets for Fire Chief M. Figliola. The person making the request said he was “looking for how much fuel, the dates and mileage that the fire chief used city gas for his vehicle.”
When he received information other than that requested, he appealed to the information privacy commissioner.
In an undated memo to Horsman, Meagan Dutchak, a student-at-law working in the legal department at the time, informed Horsman that the commissioner had granted the city until May 8 to conduct a secondary search for the information being sought.
She said she would be providing the mediator a copy of the city’s record retention schedule for Fire (Service) and if the records were destroyed in a way that was not in accordance with the time and method indicated therein then she would need to know why.
Horsman on May 2 emailed Figliola, “As discussed Friday, I needed to know the status of the 2016 fuel logs by yesterday morning . . . Could you please advise by the end of today what records are available and in their absence a documented explanation as to how, when and why they are not available.”
Figliola informed Horsman by email the same day that a review had been made of all files kept in the administration office for currency and relevancy and all files that were not required to be retained were removed and destroyed at his direction.
“I have responded on two previous occasions, Feb. 23 and April 18, that the requested information was not kept and is not available,” he said. “This in accordance with Schedule 20 of the Retention Bylaw 90-90. This has not changed.”
Horsman replied to Dutchak on May 4:
“I have received the following email (Figliola’s) as part of my investigation into this matter. The actions described do not comply with established corporate policies and procedures and were completed without my direct knowledge nor approval. I therefore am proceeding further to undertake an investigation and consider appropriate discipline for those involved as breach of the city’s codes and protocols is taken very seriously by the corporation.”
The fuel logs surfaced and showed that from June 15, 2015, to June 17, 2016, the chief logged 52,728 kilometres and used 5,267 litres of city gas in his city-owned car, a GM Acadia. The gas, at an average of $1.15 a litre give or take, would have cost taxpayers about $6,057 for the year.
Firefighters usually wash, wax and fuel up the vehicles of senior officers every Friday but the chief apparently handled his own fuelling as he had a key to the pumps.
This flies in the face of what Horsman had said in a reply to Ward 2 Coun. Susan Myers, who had brought up the matter with him in an email on Nov. 6, 2016, which was copied to the chief, the mayor and City Clerk/Deputy CAO Malcolm White.
Myers said a constituent had approached her about rumours in the community in regard to the fire chief living out of the city and his commute being paid for by taxpayers. He had referenced my column “of almost a year ago” (although my name was blacked out) in which I had said the chief had told me that he hoped to move into the city within six months.
“Has he,” the constituent asked.
Myers told Horsman she would like to know two things:
“1. The mileage travelled from Myers Road at Bright Lake, 70 miles (112 kilometre) one way, is not being billed to the city and 2. Is there a firm plan/date for the chief to live within the City of Sault Ste. Marie?”
“The chief’s employment contract does not: 1) cover personal travel; 2) require residency in SSM.
“On the former, the chief pays for personal mileage. On the latter, the chief is seeking accommodation in SSM that it’s hoped will be secured soon despite it not being a condition of employment.”
This was in November of last year. The chief was still living at Bright Lake when his employment with the city, not a contract, was terminated in April.
On Feb. 17 of this year, a notice that the fuel log sheets would no longer be used came out from the management of the Sault Ste. Marie Fire Service. I was told the chief had stopped logging his fuel consumption on Nov. 9, 2016.
The human resources policies and procedures manual says under usage that the chief is allowed “personal use of his vehicle in town. Out of town is restricted to when on call or travelling on city business.”
I would say Figliola pushed the envelope, Bright Lake being well out of town, but why wouldn’t he since no one in an official capacity seemed to be telling him that it wasn’t kosher.
Where do things stand in regard to the investigation now that Figliola is gone?
Your guess is as good as mine.
But considering the efforts that have been made so far to keep the investigation under wraps, I wouldn’t be surprised if it just faded away.
Doug Millroy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.