Mar 11

Smile and vote with the mayor

cityslikr at All Fired Up In the Big Smoke makes an interesting observation:

At last night’s meeting, every one of the councillors who ultimately voted against giving the mayor the power to deep six the last remaining members of the TCHC board rose to speak, question or give a motion or amendment. To make a public pronouncement about why they were going to vote the way they did. They weren’t all barnburners or crowd pleasers. But they stood up and let those attending the meeting, the press, their constituents back home, all know their opinion on what was happening.

via Cat Got Your Tongue? « All Fired Up In The Big Smoke.

It’s a good point. I find the councillors who never speak in support of their votes to be incredibly disappointing.

Related to this, here’s a fun picture of one of those incredibly disappointing councillors, Jaye Robinson, checking out my Council Scorecard at last night’s session.

Mar 11

What Rob Ford voted against on Wednesday night

A number of confusing amendments were made during Wednesday night’s special council meeting regarding the Toronto Community Housing Corporation board. Most of them failed. Here’s a quick list of everything the mayor and his allies voted against:

  • Motion 1a by Kristyn Wong-Tam — Keep Councillors Augimeri and Cho on the board, along with the elected Tenant Representatives. Appoint Case Ootes as chair.  Failed.
  • Motion 1b by Kristyn Wong-Tam — Don’t pay Case Ootes for his work as Managing Director of the TCHC, as he is still drawing severance pay from the city. Failed.
  • Motion 2b by Josh Colle – A seemingly nonsensical motion from Josh Colle. Can’t fault him for this one. Failed.
  • Motion 3 by Shelley Carroll — Post all expense records of TCHC Board members and staff that make in excess of $100,000 per year. Also any TCHC purchases greater than $1,000 shall require board approval. This one passed, despite the mayor. Passed.
  • Motion 4 by Joe Mihevc — This would have prevented Case Ootes from firing any TCHC senior staff, for example the CEO. Failed.
  • Motion 5 by Gord Perks — Remove all board members, appoint the alternate tenant representatives that were elected in 2007 but have yet to serve on the board. Failed.
  • Motion 6 by Mary Fragedakis — Defer this whole business of dissolving the board; let the audit committee receive the auditor general’s report so that councillors can debate it and ask questions. Failed.
  • Motion 7a by Adam Vaughan — This one passed too, even though the mayor voted against it. Vaughan asked that TCHC disclose any meetings Case Ootes has with lobbyists, and that a report be commissioned as to the ability to implement a Lobbyist Registry at TCHC. Passed.
  • Motion 7b by Adam Vaughan — Put any money set aside for Case Ootes’ salary toward capital repairs at TCHC buildings. Failed.
  • Motion 8 by Janet Davis — Reappoint Councillors Nunziata and Parker, to serve on a new board made up of Augimeri, Cho, the tenant representatives, and chaired by Ootes. Failed.
  • Motion 9a by Paula Fletcher — Call for a review of TCHC buildings currently managed by private companies, compared with publicly-managed buildings. Also would disallow Case Ootes from awarding new contracts during the interim period. Failed.
  • Motion 9b by Paula Fletcher — Ensure that new board is in place by June 14, 2011. (Updated with clarification: Ford did vote for a similar motion by Josh Colle that imposed the same deadline.) Passed.
  • Motion 11 by Maria Augimeri — Ensure that the TCHC board’s by-laws revert to normal after the new board is in place. (By-laws were amended to allow for a minimum of one director last night.) Failed.

It’s surprising how many seemingly sensible motions the mayor voted against. Augimeri’s motion, for example, seemed perfectly innocuous. In his defence, I guess, it was late and he sort of defaults to hitting ‘no.’

You can read more about all the motions and votes if you are, for example, a crazy person.

Mar 11

TCHC board dissolved in expected 25-18 vote

After a marathon council session, stretching from 5:30 p.m. until midnight, council finally voted 25-18 to dissolve the board of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation.

Early on, speaker Frances Nunziata ruled that any discussion of the auditor general’s report on the TCHC was out of order, a completely bizarre move that left councillors reaching to make their arguments without directly referencing the content of the report.

The arguments heard boiled down like this:

From the Right:

  • We need a ‘clean slate’ so a whole new board can be appointed.
  • The auditor general did a great job! We should commend him for that.
  • Even though Tenant representatives on the board and the remaining council representatives can’t be held responsible for anything in the auditor’s report, we still want to hold them accountable.
  • If the remaining board members don’t resign, it will make the nine members that have already resigned look bad.
  • The mayor wants it this way.

From the Left:

  • The tenant reps were democratically elected which removing them kind of, you know, contrary to democracy.
  • The council reps are new so why not keep them around?
  • Instituting a one-man board, even on an interim basis, isn’t ideal.
  • Had this not been rushed to council, it would have gone to the audit committee and/or executive committee where councillors could talk about the auditor general’s report in depth and ask staff and the board questions. This might have been a good thing to do.
  • Isn’t this just a sneaky scheme to privatize everything?

It was never really in doubt that this motion would pass. Ford simply has the votes he needs locked up to do anything he wants at the moment.

Two bits of procedural interest:

Shelley Carroll, through a mixture of wizardry and cunning, got Rob Ford, Doug Ford and most of council’s right-wing to vote against her amendment that would see an extra layer of oversight and accountability added to the TCHC. The motion passed 22-21 thanks to defections from Ford loyalists Michelle Beradinetti and Gloria Lindsay Luby.

Second, council actually voted down a motion from Kristyn Wong-Tam that would have prevented Case Ootes from drawing a salary as TCHC Managing Director on top of the severance he is already getting as a former city councillor.

Mar 11

Getting all messed up on TCHC: a ten-point guide

Okay. Let’s start with the easy stuff. There’s a local scandal gripping the news at the moment involving the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. You’ve heard about it. I wrote a bunch of things related to it. In sum: you should be mad about it. A lot of bad things happened. We need to make this better.

Today at Council, a series of things happened spinning out of this. Many of them involve some of the more esoteric rules of council. All of them involve weird political gamesmanship that only sort of make sense. The major claim is that this is about accountability. The accusation is that it’s about privatizing public housing. The truth? It’s lost somewhere in there.

Let’s walk through it together.

  1. Soon after starting for the day, council opts to consider MM5.7, a motion that would dissolve the TCHC Board of Directors and replace them indefinitely with a Managing Director, widely expected to be former councillor Case Ootes. Ootes has, in the past, shown some interest in exploring selling off TCHC properties.
  2. Before anything can happen, council needs to vote, with a two-thirds majority of present councillors, to consider the motion.
  3. Councillors vote, and a two-thirds majority is not achieved. With right-leaning councillors Michelle Beradinetti, Mark Grimes and Ron Moeser absent, 28 votes were required. They got 26. (Even if the three absentee councillors had been there to vote, it’s unlikely they would have achieved the two-thirds majority. Of the dissenting councillors, their best hope was Raymond Cho. And he broke ranks with Team Ford very publicly during the budget debates.)
  4. Everyone assumes the thing they just voted for was a motion to ‘Waive Referral,’ which would send the item to the Executive Committee. It wasn’t. It’s a motion to ‘Waive Notice.’ This becomes important later.
  5. People opposed to the mayor are happy. The Star describes the vote as the mayor’s “first significant defeat.” Which is a bit sad, because, pre-election, who would have thought Rob Ford coming close to commanding two-thirds of city council was even a remote possibility? The mayor is less happy. The person who controls his Twitter accounts sends out this: “It’s unfortunate some councillors don’t want to discuss accountability at the TCHC.” (One could point out that they do want to discuss it — in the framework of the established process. Immediately dissolving the board and replacing them with Case Ootes is kind of the opposite of discussion.)
  6. Because everyone assumes they’ve just voted to refer the motion to the Executive Committee, that committee opts to hold a special meeting at lunchtime tomorrow, during which they will quickly approve the item, then put it on the agenda for another meeting.
  7. As meetings of the executive committee allow deputations — something that doesn’t happen at council meetings — many people sign up to speak at tomorrow’s meetings. There is speculation that the left-leaning councillors might filibuster the meeting, delaying things further.
  8. But wait! Some digging causes someone to realize that the item they voted on earlier was, in fact, a Notice of Motion. All this does is delay the item to a future council meeting. And with that, the executive committee meeting — along with all the deputations, which presumably would have come from TCHC residents in large part — was cancelled. In its place, there will be a “special” Council Meeting immediately following the scheduled meeting tomorrow, in which this item will be discussed.
  9. Left-leaning councillors think this is ridiculous. Pam McConnell calls it “reprehensible.” Gord Perks, apparently, storms off in a huff. Council’s right plays innocent, asking why their counterparts wouldn’t want to discuss the issue now? It’s a scandal! We need accountability! Accountability that can only be realized, I guess, by kicking off two members of the board who were elected by tenants and two councillors who have only been in their positions since December.
  10. Speaking at the end of council today, Mayor Ford rises and asks if it might be possible to move the “special” council meeting, currently set for 5:30 p.m., up a few hours.

So here we are. After all the confusion and maneuvering, we’re left with essentially, the original motion to replace the remaining members of the TCHC board — the tenant reps, Raymond Cho and Maria Augimeri — with Managing Director Case Ootes. It will probably pass.

The question, of course, is what the hell is the big rush? What’s so wrong with letting the city’s audit committee deal with this? With working with the remaining board members to determine a path going forward that makes sense for tenants?

The smell coming off of this is that the mayor sees an opportunity to use the auditor general’s report as a smokescreen to usher in structural changes to TCHC governance that will open the door to privatization. Some will call that a conspiracy theory, but given the haste with which Team Ford is acting on this and the mayor’s public admission that he would “absolutely” privatize TCHC, is it really that crazy a thought?

Mar 11

Board out, Ootes in

Earlier today, a new agenda item was added for this week’s council meeting. The item, MM5.7, moved by Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and (kind of interestingly) seconded by Mary-Margaret McMahon, calls for the TCHC Board of Directors to be dissolved and replaced with a Managing Director, who is not named.

Thanks to the Globe & Mail’s Kelly Grant, we now know that Managing Director will be Case Ootes, former councillor and the man who led Rob Ford’s transition team:

The former councillor who led Mayor Rob Ford’s transition team is the administration’s choice to temporarily replace the ousted board of Toronto’s embattled public housing agency, The Globe has learned.

Case Ootes is recommended as the managing director of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, according to a city hall source.

via Case Ootes recommended to be temporary TCHC director – The Globe and Mail.

A little digging shows that Ootes once called for the sale of all TCHC-owned single family homes (starting with three in his ward), proposing that profits from the sales go to rent subsidies and TCHC high-rise buildings. He did say at the time, though, that he was “all for not creating ghettos.” Which is, I guess, good news.

Mar 11

Ex-TCHC board member Mammoliti: in my defence, I skipped all the morning meetings

In an interview with the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale, Giorgio Mammoliti, who sat on the TCHC Board from 2001 until recently, embarrasses the hell out of himself in a weird attempt to disassociate himself from the ongoing scandal:

“The mayor wants a change at the board,” he said, “and I agree with the mayor that there should be a change at the board. I never asked for the board to go, I just agreed with the mayor.”

via Mammoliti: I was a ‘responsible’ TCHC board member – thestar.com.

Translation: I just agree with the mayor on everything!

“A lot of this stuff that’s coming forward never even came to the board. So it’s not all the board’s responsibility,” Mammoliti said. “But — they oversee it. And when you oversee it, and there’s a change, as the mayor’s proposing to do, then that’s why I support the change.”

Translation: It wasn’t my responsibility but the mayor thinks the new board should take responsibility and I always agree with the mayor. Even though I filed a human rights complaint against him once.

This is the best part, though:

The fixtures deal, the auditor reported, was split into small increments to avoid board oversight. Mammoliti offered another reason he might never have heard about it: committees sometimes met by telephone at 8 a.m., when he was busy with his family.

“It could’ve been discussed in the morning meetings, I don’t know. I never partook in those early morning meetings because I’ve gotta take my daughter to school,” he said.

Translation: I’m not responsible for anything because the meetings were held way too early in the morning.

Mar 11

TCHC as an ‘ambitious property developer’

Writing for Spacing, John Lorinc speculates that the root of TCHC’s problems may have been that they behaved “much more like an ambitious property developer than a responsive property manager:”

Effective development, of course, demands both schmoozing and speed, so it is not a stretch to imagine that the TCHC’s senior managers — energized by an obviously challenging mission — may have become more than a little impressed by the urbane ways of the city’s building industry. After all, the perks and procurement short-cuts unearthed by the auditor-general wouldn’t be out of place in the development industry, where time-to-market is a major competitive issue.

Incent your employees to deliver projects on time and on budget? Check.

Go with a supplier that says it can get the job done faster? Check, check.

I’m not excusing the conduct, but we can’t ignore the wider context, either.

via LORINC: The Toronto Community Housing Conundrum « Spacing Toronto.

Or to put it another way: a public agency was acting too much like a private corporation. (Ignore anyone who ever uses the phrase “This would never happen in the private sector,” by the way. Everything happens in the private sector. Shitty management practices were practically invented by the private sector.)

Handing TCHC’s development work (on Regent Park and Lawrence Heights, amongst others) to another city agency is a sensible reform worth looking at.

After you read Lorinc’s piece, scroll down and check out Steve Munro’s comment as well. He reminds us that, seriously, the chocolates and pedicures and whatever else aren’t the real story here. Abuses of the city’s procurement process cost us far more, and are way less forgivable.

Mar 11

One of Canada’s Top Employers: putting the TCHC scandal in context

On Thursday, I noticed on Twitter that Toronto Community Housing was one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers, declared as such by Mediacorp Canada. At Torontoist, Steve Kupferman dug into the story:

This year, TCHC nabbed a spot on a list of Canada’s top one hundred employers, put together annually by Mediacorp Canada Inc., a company that publishes employment guides, and runs a job-search website. TCHC was also on the list in 2009 and 2010.

Did you know that TCHC’s work atmosphere “is rated as above-average,” and that employees enjoy casual dress, and can listen to music while they work?

via TCHC Named One of Canada’s Top 100 Employers in 2011 – Torontoist.

What really strikes me is how this shifts the whole character of the story. The general spin is that TCHC employees were cackling while getting manicures, eating expensive chocolates and attending awesome Christmas parties, all paid for with tax dollars. (Though, on another note, OpenFile tells us that the Christmas Parties? Probably weren’t that awesome.)

I suppose that’s true in a sense — minus, probably, the cackling –, but the “Top 100 Employers” thing gives me pause. TCHC management obviously valued their “Top 100 Employers” ranking. The logo is still displayed prominently in the banner on their website. They got that ranking for providing strong benefits for employees, and that extends to ‘cultural benefits’ — things like social events, Christmas parties, non-monetary incentive programs, etc.

If you follow the Human Resources profession at all, you’d know that issues like employee recruitment, retention and incentive programs are big deals. There are whole companies dedicated to providing non-monetary ‘rewards’ to employees who do a good job. It’s a trend.

I’m speculating, but it seems possible that TCHC management bought into this kind of HR strategy without considering the implications and optics of doing so. It’s a question of a corporate strategy that emphasized HR policy apparently at the expense of customer service.

As far as the expenses side of this story goes, I’ve yet to hear of anything that goes beyond what you might see in private sector companies that have adopted more progressive HR strategies. The part of the auditor general’s report relating to procurement is another, more troubling and expensive, matter.

I know that kind of de-sexys the story a bit, but I believe that to find the kind of positive change necessary we need people who can look at this from an angle beyond “MY TAX DOLLARS!!!!”

Mar 11

TCHC: What happens after everyone gets fired?

Royson James:

Mitchell accepts responsibility for the corporation’s failure to follow tendering and procurement policies. A decentralized system allowed managers to use “poor judgment, no judgment, and not do things the right way. I realize the stuff happened on my watch and I have to take responsibility,” though he says some decisions resulted in savings and social good.

The relationship with the new regime at city hall was non-existent. Ford never asked to meet with him, Mitchell says, even though Toronto Housing has $6 billion in assets.

While he had the cellphone number of ex-mayor David Miller and spoke with him three times a month, Ford has never called. “This gentleman,” he said, “is more interested in looking for gravy.”

via James: What’s behind the TCHC resignations – thestar.com.

It’s kind of interesting that our cellphone-addict mayor didn’t bother to keep the lines of communication open with the TCHC Chair like Miller apparently did.

Ultimately, though, I think Mitchell and the board played this badly. They seemed to realize too late that resigning was the only move that made sense given the way the story was being played in the media. The couple of days where they dragged their feet have likely done a lot to advance the public appetite for TCHC privatization.  That’s not a good thing.

The question I’m asking now: what happens after you fire everyone? It’s not going to magically fix things. Those that sat on the TCHC Board and the managers within the corporation were not simply evil people, contaminating all that’s good and pure. Removing them and starting the process over again isn’t guaranteed to do anything but cost the city and TCHC a lot of money.

And how far do you take it? People from both the left and the right have been calling for audits on every city agency, board and committee. And here’s the thing: I have no doubt every single one of those agencies, boards and committees has, to varying degrees, examples of waste, abuse and mismanagement. Whether it be an incorrectly expensed meal, an ill-advised ‘business trip’ or ‘retreat’, or a botched procurement contract. They’re there. We’d find them.

And that sucks.

But I think about the possibility that the city could end up in a giant circle of audits, investigations and firings for the next three years and it concerns me. How far do you push it? This isn’t city building — it’s a quixotic quest to save money that’s already been lost. To create some sort of ultra-perfect bureaucracy that can’t ever exist.

Real positive change goes beyond audits and resignation letters. It requires a permanent cultural shift.

Mar 11

Speaking instead of the mayor, not for the mayor

Meanwhile, the Globe & Mail’s Anna Mehler Paperny has a cute quote from Doug Ford in her article about the TCHC spending brouhaha:

Meanwhile, both Mr. Ford and his councillor brother Doug Ford were circumspect about what they’d like to do with the housing corporation, which they said earlier this week deserves a complete overhaul.

That could mean a tighter municipal leash for the TCHC and other arms-length agencies, boards and commissions.

“Personally, I would [like to see direct oversight],” Doug Ford said. “I’m not speaking for the mayor, but Doug Ford would like to have more control over these ABCs.”

via Firm behind controversial housing contract defends its work – The Globe and Mail.

I like that, reading between the lines, you can see the moment where he realized that he was speaking for the mayor and then decided to make it really really clear that he wasn’t.

It will also be interesting to see Toronto politicians simultaneously argue for more oversight and control while pushing for privatization of city programs. That’s a hell of a magic trick.