10/24/2014 01:08 EDT | Updated 12/24/2014 05:59 EST

Arbitrator reduces total funds Susan Fennell must pay back

An arbitrator has substantially knocked down the amount of money embattled Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell will be required to repay the city for ineligible expenditures, an outcome she says has vindicated her.

On Friday, Fennell characterized the arbitrator's decision as one that showed the majority of claims made by critics about her spending are "just plain wrong" and further said that her opponents owe Brampton residents an apology, as a result.

A forensic audit, released earlier this year, found that Fennell and her staff had broken spending rules more than 200 times. A handful of other councillors were also found to have claimed ineligible expenses.

Brampton's integrity commissioner then reviewed that audit and found that Fennell had violated council's code of conduct by approving flight passes for herself and her staff that could be upgraded to business class and thus were against policy.

The city then engaged an arbitrator, Janet Leiper, to resolve any disputes over the monies owed by Fennell and other councillors found to have broken spending rules.

Leiper's report on this work was released Friday. She found that Fennell must pay back $3,522,97, or about 10 per cent of the $34,118 the forensic auditor had identified for repayment.

Fennell, who is seeking re-election, said the arbitrator has vindicated her.

"Some of my detractors said I owed nearly $170,000. I said over and over that I did not. I said I respect the rules," she told reporters Friday, during remarks that were broadcast on CP24.

"The arbitrator has now agreed and found that all that is owing — all that is owing — is a fraction of that, just over $3,000."

'Their little witch hunt'

Fennell said she is "happy" to repay the amount the arbitrator has outlined.

"I want to say, as I've always said, for any mistakes made, I sincerely apologize," Fennell said.

"This forensic audit that was commissioned for this term of council found no mistakes of this term of council, but for the mayor, they went an extra term in their little witch hunt and that's where they found their two — but I apologize, I made a mistake, we're paying that back."

Fennell said the allegations levied in recent months have hurt the city.

"My name is now cleared, once and for all, as I knew it would be," she said.

Fennell first won election as mayor in 2000. Before that, she had served as a city and regional councillor.

A dozen other candidates are seeking to replace her, including former Liberal MPP and provincial cabinet minister Linda Jeffrey, who left Queen's Park to make a mayoral run. Brampton Councillor John Sanderson is also running for mayor.