Jun 11

Mammoliti, other councillors face serious audit requests

After making waves with a pretty-damn-serious request for an audit of Mayor Rob Ford’s campaign expenses, Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler turned up the dial last week, debuting a new advocacy group — Fair Elections Toronto — and launching eight additional requests for campaign audits against several councillors and defeated council candidates.

Steve Kupferman with Torontoist:

A group calling itself Fair Elections Toronto is asking for audits of four sitting councillors, whom they accuse of having violated campaign finance laws during the 2010 municipal election.

Comprised of about 25 members and led by activist and Toronto Public Library Board vice-chair Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler, Fair Elections Toronto alleges that Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West), James Pasternak (Ward 10, York Centre), Michael Thompson (Ward 37, Scarborough Centre), and Doug Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North) all improperly classified expenses incurred during their campaigns as being for “fundraising functions,” in amounts ranging from $4,000 to $17,000.

via Doug Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti, and Other Councillors Facing Calls for Campaign Audits – Torontoist.

The most serious allegations fall against Mammoliti, who is accused of exceeding spending limits by more than 50%. If, over the course of the audit process, it is determined that the Mammoliti campaigning knowingly overspent — listing non-fundraising expenses as fundraising expenses, which are exempt from the limit — he could very well be removed from office.

Knowingly overspending in an election campaign isn’t just a minor administrative error. It’s tantamount to cheating.

The Star’s Daniel Dale has more on the Mammoliti situation:

“When you file an audited financial statement without a name and a date or a title for each one of the expenses claimed, it really stretches my willingness to believe it was a good-faith error,” Chaleff-Freudenthaler said.

Mammoliti said he had done “everything according to the law.” And he lashed out at Chaleff-Freudenthaler and his colleagues.

“We’ve got no concerns at all,” Mammoliti said, “except the fact that we think this is a bit of a conspiracy going on with a few individuals wanting to get to the right-leaning councillors. That’s not really what this structure was put together for. So we’re looking at actually suing the individuals that are doing this.”

via Mammoliti alleges ‘conspiracy’ over audit requests – thestar.com.

When your first line of defence against an allegation is to claim that there’s a conspiracy against you, you know you’re in deep trouble. (A much better line of defence for Mammoliti would have been to produce details, including a date and location, of the fundraising event in question. But maybe that would just be playing into the conspiracists’ hands.)

Fair Elections Toronto’s biggest challenge through this process will be to convince skeptics that their actions are not politically-motivated. That all the sitting councillors targeted for audit happen to be allied with the mayor is difficult to ignore.

But either way, these allegations are serious regardless of motivation. Municipal elections are tooth-and-nail, grassroots efforts, where every dollar spent and every vote cast matters. Allegations that Councillor James Pasternak overspent by a mere $2,500 may seem trivial, for example, until you consider that he won Ward 10 by only 382 votes, garnering less than 20% of the popular vote. A hundred fewer signs or flyers and that race could have easily gone a different way.

Those claiming that these allegations are politically-motivated also have to contend with the fact that Fair Elections Toronto seems sincerely devoted to the idea of reforming the Municipal Elections Act. The Reform page on their site outlines four changes to the Act that would improve accountability and fairness, and justifies the necessity of the current round of audit requests:

Litigating complaints against candidates who, we allege, broke election laws is only the first step in bringing fair elections to Toronto. Fundamental changes need to be made to the Municipal Elections Act to increase accountability and transparency, eliminate the gray areas that candidates systemically exploit, and better reflect the realities of big city elections. As the City of Toronto’s Auditor General reported following the 2006 election, 29 of 45 councillors broke election laws in one way or another. While we have only filed audit requests on the four councillors we believe gained a material advantage from Municipal Elections Act violations, we believe that the culture of non-compliance that was identified in 2006 remains today.

via Reform | Fair Elections Toronto.

Regardless of outcome, the audit process and legal proceedings are expected to drag out for quite some time.

Jun 11

Arena deal reveals downside to contracting out

The National Post’s Natalie Alcoba:

The City of Toronto is looking to take over a new four-pad arena in Etobicoke that is dangerously close to defaulting on loans guaranteed by the municipal government.

Lakeshore Lions Arena, also known as the Mastercard Centre for Hockey Excellence, was built to replace an ageing single-pad facility run for some 55 years by the not-for-profit Lakeshore Lions Club. It’s the home of the Etobicoke Dolphins, the Faustina hockey club house league, and most notably is used as practice space by the Toronto Maple Leafs and Marlies.

via City looks to take over debt-troubled Etobicoke hockey arena | Posted Toronto | National Post.

Though the venerable Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy tried to spin this story as a lingering failure left by the David Miller administration, I’m really not sure that holds up to any kind of scrutiny. If anything, this works as an example of how contracting out a service to the private sector can sometimes not turn out as well as governments might hope.

The private sector is not and has never been the magic elixir that automatically makes government smaller and reduces costs.

This arena deal still seems like something the current administration would salivate over. A private, not-for-profit company assumes responsibility for building and managing the arena — which provides a tangible benefit for local residents — keeping it out of the hands of the city bureaucracy. The city is only the hook to back a loan issued to cover construction costs.

What’s not to love? It’s hockey without bureaucracy. And they even sold naming rights to Mastercard to sweeten the deal. Conservatives love selling naming rights.

But it didn’t work. Sometimes these things don’t work. Construction costs went up as the arena was constructed, requiring the city to increase their loan guarantee. Once completed, commercial space in the complex didn’t lease. Something had to give.

Mayor Rob Ford told the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat that he’s “furious” about the arena’s financial problems, which have led to a staff recommendation that would essentially in-source control of the facility:

“(The arena) is completely mismanaged,” Ford told reporters at City Hall. “I’ve voted for it and I regret doing that.”

via Ford ‘furious’ over arena bailout | Toronto & GTA | News | Toronto Sun.

And okay, fury is an acceptable emotion, but the revelation of this scenario isn’t that Ford and the previous council were wrong to vote for the deal — on the surface, it was a pretty good deal — but that, with contracting out, you inevitably give up something that’s incredibly valuable: oversight.

That’s an important thing to consider as council continues down this road of contracting out everything not nailed down.

Jun 11

Whistle Blower Protection Policy a small victory for Ford

Let’s give the mayor his due: he fulfilled an election promise Tuesday when council unanimously voted to approve a new Whistle Blower Protection Policy that ensures city employees will not fear for their jobs after reporting department waste or mismanagement.

The National Post’s Natalie Alcoba:

“Every single one of us in this council chamber has received an email or phone call from an employee of the city saying something is wrong, or we can do this better, but they’re afraid to give their name because they’re afraid to lose their job,” Mayor Ford said at the top of this month’s council meeting. “Starting today that will end.”

Mr. Ford, a proponent of smaller government, also lauded the 56,000 civic employees as the “backbone” of how the city is run. “We need them to come forward and say this is a better way of delivering the service, or this is where taxpayers money is being wasted.”

via Council approves ‘whistle blower protection policy’ | Posted Toronto | National Post.

Believing that this policy will make a significant difference requires a pretty significant leap of faith — are there really scores of employees out there aware of negligent use of city funds but won’t come forward? — but it’s a harmless addition to the Fraud Prevention Policy that could ultimately result in a positive outcome.

The new policy defines “waste” as “the gross mismanagement of City resources in a wilful, intentional or negligent manner that contravenes a City policy or direction by Council.”

Jun 11

Transparent government locked down

Councillor Josh Matlow’s most recent weekly column for the Toronto Star looks at the issue of access and security at City Hall. Apparently some councillors have access cards that allow them to freely enter the mayor’s office while others, like Matlow, do not:

However, when I recently tried to enter the mayor’s office, my pass didn’t work. I might as well have been holding a Diners’ Club card.

In contrast, the mayor’s staff walks undeterred through every corridor of city hall and often makes unscheduled visits to councillors’ offices. At first, I didn’t think twice about Mr. Ford’s locked door, as I know he has a lot of requests for his time. And it’s his office, after all.

But then last week, I witnessed another councillor, who sits on the executive committee, receive a green light when he waved his pass. I began to wonder why Ford Nation granted visas to some councillors and not to others.

via City Hall Diary: A visit to the inner sanctum – thestar.com.

Via Twitter, City Hall Watcher and Day-of-Reckoner Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler notes that David Miller’s office was never locked during business hours.

Zealously controlling access to your office — and having staff that immediately get suspicious when visitors start taking photos — indicates a kind of paranoia that seems to undermine Ford’s goal to increase transparency and accountability at City Hall.

You can’t only be transparent and accountable to people who like you.

Jun 11

Doug Ford: Mayor is ‘Walking Pollster’

Patrick White has a very nice feature story on Councillor Doug Ford in the weekend Globe & Mail. Very much worth reading:

“He’s like a walking pollster,” says Doug of his younger brother. “Just imagine calling 80 to 100 people from all across Toronto hearing what they have to say. He gets this city. It really bothers me when people say this or that about him.…That guy is brilliant in his own way. Is he a brilliant speaker? Not all the time. Is he eloquent? Not all the time. But man, Rob’s my hero. Rob’s a political genius.”

via Doug Ford: Riding shotgun in the Fordmobile – The Globe and Mail.

Making political decisions based on amateur phone polling — of less than 100 people, apparently — doesn’t really seem like something to brag about, but I guess it’s worked out pretty well for him so far.

White also gets Doug talking about the plans for Sheppard Subway financing:

He’s heard a number of serious proposals already for financing the $4-billion line privately, including at least one from a Chinese firm. He insists the city should start digging with partial funding: accepting a few hundred million from the federal government, borrowing against future tax revenues (known as tax-increment financing) along Eglinton and Sheppard and diverting cash leftover from the $8.1-billion the province has promised for the Eglinton subway. “I know for a fact Eglinton won’t cost that much,” he said. “Let’s just get the shovels in the ground,” he added. “Even if we go a kilometre a year, just don’t take those boring machines out of the ground once they start going.”

So: Taking future tax revenues from development around Eglinton and applying them to Sheppard. Getting construction started before all the necessary funding is in place. Hoping that the Eglinton line comes in under budget. This, apparently, is what fiscally responsible government looks like.

Jun 11

The cell phone mayor: “You have the wrong number”

Rob Ford, as a candidate and now as mayor, has always implored the people of Toronto to call his ubiquitous cell phone to express their concerns about city issues. At the New Year’s Day levee that came only weeks into his office term, the Toronto Star’s Amy Dempsey reported that the mayor had a repeated refrain for anyone who visited him with a problem or question: “Call me. Just call me.”

Representing Xtra!, reporter Andrea Houston had a problem of her own. Despite being only a few short weeks away from the kick-off to the Pride festivities, the Mayor has not issued the traditional proclamation.

So Houston called the mayor:

When Xtra called Ford’s cellphone June 7 to ask if he will read the proclamation and raise the rainbow flag, he said, “You have the wrong number” and promptly hung up.

via Pride Week not on list of city proclamations.

To be fair, the idea that the mayor of a city of more than two million people could manage issues personally via cell phone was never realistic. Still, though, if Ford isn’t responding to every phone call he gets, he likely should stop making blanket references to the people who call him whenever he speaks about an issue he supports.

By the way, Ford has still not committed to marching in the Pride parade. Since June Rowlands, who never marched, every subsequent Toronto mayor has made an appearance in the parade.

Mar 11

Rob Ford still working at Deco Labels

I think the Star buries the lede on their story by Robyn Doolittle about the Ford family business, Deco Labels & Tags, and its work for the city over the last decade. The company has done “$130,000 worth of work on 98 contracts” for various city departments since 2000. They bid on these contracts fairly and there seems to be no clear indication of any wrongdoing. This doesn’t seem particularly newsworthy.

What is interesting, though, is this bit towards the middle that details Mayor Ford’s itinerary, which still includes time blocked for meetings and work with Deco Labels:

For years Ford served as Deco’s chief financial officer. Today, his name does not appear on Deco’s federal business profile, although copies of Ford’s itinerary obtained by the Star through a freedom of information request show the mayor is still involved with the company.

On Jan. 20, Ford was scheduled to attend a “family business” meeting from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The following Monday, his itinerary said “Deco all day” from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., though the day also lists budget committee and property standards meetings.

via Mayor’s company raises conflict questions – thestar.com.

It’s kind of crazy that they had to file a freedom of information request to get a copy of the mayor’s schedule. Openness and accountability!

Also: should the mayor of Canada’s largest city really have time to devote to meetings regarding a family-owned for-profit business?

Mar 11

Unspecified lessons to be learned

The Executive Committee today voted (of course) in favour of various reforms to the city’s boards, agencies and committees. I wrote a bit about this last week. This isn’t surprising, nor is it necessarily a good or bad thing. The real impacts of this move won’t be felt for a while.

My favourite part was the justifications members of the executive committee used when endorsing this move. The Toronto Star’s Paul Moloney had this great bit:

The reforms were endorsed Monday by the powerful executive committee, chaired by Ford, and go to the full city council next month for final approval.

The public supports a clampdown amid revelations about thousands of dollars being spent by the housing company on gifts, spas, manicures, Muskoka planning trips and Christmas parties for staff, said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

“There’s a lesson to be learned and applied through recent events such as the TCHC,” Minnan-Wong, a member of the executive committee, said in an interview.

via Ford moves to rein in agencies – thestar.com.

So these reforms are necessary because of the TCHC scandal. Except that council still hasn’t received the auditor general’s report on mismanagement at the TCHC, nor have they had an opportunity to question TCHC staff about the allegations. And in the case of the former board and CEO, there’s no longer any opportunity to ask questions, because they’ve all been fired.

There are probably literally hundreds of important lessons to be learned from the TCHC scandal. But thus far the mayor and his allies have seemed indifferent to actually figuring out what those lessons are. (John Lorinc has actually done a good job digging into the TCHC thing beyond the surface “my tax dollars” sheen.)

Fire everyone and hope things get better is a pretty lousy management strategy. Also lousy? Using the spectre of an unrelated spending scandal to justify reforms like these.


Mar 11

Deputy Mayor: “Seizing control” of library board would be “great”

Let’s not bury the lede on this one. Here’s InsideToronto.com’s David Nickle, writing about proposed changes to the structure of the Library Board:

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said he wasn’t aware of any attempt to seize control of the library board away from Toronto Council’s left.

“If we did seize control from the left it’d be great, but I don’t know anything about it,” said Holyday. “But I think we’re going to have some serious choices next year and if there’s a bunch of people not willing to make serious choices, then they should step aside.”

via InsideToronto Article: Council to restructure boards.

Emphasis added.

Lots of buzzing over the weekend about this item, set to hit Executive Committee at the next meeting. Agenda Item EX4.7 is a report from the City Manager that calls for numerous moves that would change the composition of the city’s boards.

Some councillors and city-watchers have seized on this as an attempt by Team Ford to exert greater control over these boards, in response to what I guess would be called “subversive” moves by boards (notably the Library Board, but also Public Health and the Police Services Board, among others) who voted against the mayor’s cut-everything request during the 2011 budget process.

Specifically, the Manager’s report calls for a reduction in the size of the Library and five other boards. It also calls for a change in the way board members are recruited. (Here’s a quick glance at the proposed changes to council representation on these boards.)

I’m willing to give the mayor’s office the benefit of the doubt on this one — I doubt this is part of a coordinated attempt to tighten control of these boards. That feels too sneaky and megalomaniacally evil, even for this bunch.  This report was commissioned by the David Miller council, and it includes a bunch of positive changes, notably a recommendation that boards seek a more “youthful perspective” by recruiting members between eighteen and thirty, and a new restriction on former councillors sitting on specific boards.

That doesn’t mean this report won’t ultimately be taken and twisted as a way to wrangle control of these boards, however, and it’s certainly something that has to be watched closely. Especially in light of Holyday’s comments.

Jan 11

We don’t need oversight because we’re not going to make mistakes

Couple of notes from the budget meetings today. The first is the entirely unsurprising news that the mayor’s first budget, in addition to being bigger than last year’s budget, will also grow the city’s workforce.

And now we learn that the budget committee has voted to deny the request of Toronto ombudsman Fiona Crean — who operates independently — to add two staff to her office.

The funniest part is councillor Peter Milczyn’s rationale as to why extra staff in the ombudsman’s office is unnecessary. Here’s The Globe & Mail’s Anna Mehler Paperny:

Several councillors, including Peter Milczyn, who put forward the motion that passed at committee by a show of hands on Monday, said beefing up the ombudsman’s office is unnecessary because the city plans to improve its customer service record anyway.

via City ombudsman’s request for more staff turned down – The Globe and Mail.