Security Detail

April 30, 2015

With today’s release of the City of Toronto’s Ombudsman’s Report, An Investigation Into Toronto City Hall Security, ombudsmanwe’re sure to get another dose of noise from our Tales of the Mayor Behaving Badly tickle trunk. Just comes with the territory when you elect a drinker and drug abuser to public office. Messy shit happens.

And no question, messy shit happened, lots and lots of it.  Much of it reported earlier. Except I don’t remember hearing previously about security helping then mayor Rob Ford drive out of City Hall unnoticed while he was clearly under the influence. Aiding and abetting drunk driving, that is.

D’oh!

There I go, veering off onto the salacious detail trail. It’s so easy to get sidetracked. One could argue that, collectively, we got sidetracked for 4 years, caught up in the weeds and muck of scandal.

The thing to focus on in this Ombudsman’s report is not the instigator, the belligerent provocateur, but instead, how the system coped with a situation that the Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, referred to as ‘without precedent’. In short, it didn’t. Slightly less short, individual front line security officers were left to their own devices to deal with the unprecedented demands and overreach of the mayor’s office on them. forestforthetreesManagement, city management, did little to counter the belief that the mayor was the “head of the city” (339, page 58), so could not really be challenged by security.

In other words, individual security officers were hung out to dry by management, allowing the mayor to run roughshod over procedures and protocol. When management finally did respond, it was frequently too late and reactive. The mayor blew past all established boundaries, and in the process, redefined them.

Yeah, well. What are the chances of this city ever electing a crack smoking, drunken stupor falling mayor again, asked while regularly looking back over our shoulder, wondering if this is the thing that will re-ignite Ford Nation again. Fool me once, shame on you, etc., etc.

“It is behind us, the city’s moved on,” Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair Jaye Robinson (and noted no friend of the Ombudsman’s office) responded when asked about the security report. Yes. Let us never speak of this again.

The thing is though, Ms. Crean and her staff have revealed not just specific structural flaws in how City Hall provides security but very basic, fundamental flaws, starting with, Who’s in charge here? nothingtoseehereNowhere in the City of Toronto Act, in the position of C.E.O. of the corporation of the City of Toronto or as head of city council, does it say a mayor can hijack City Hall security for his own personal use. The fact that, in this case, some security personal felt intimidated about reporting their interactions with the mayor out of fear of some sort of retaliation from him or his office (350, page 60), and when reports were written, they weren’t filed properly from the same reason, takes this far beyond this one mayor at this one moment in time.

Another mayor might look at this, see the matter of sheepish compliance in the face of the perceived power of the mayor’s office not only from the lower echelons of the public service but upper management itself, the very top of the city’s bureaucracy, and try to push the envelope in other, more troubling ways. Like say, I don’t know, procurement practices, for instance. The mayor lets it be known to the pertinent city department that he’s got an acquaintance with a business that would be perfect for job X. No pressure, you understand. Just a heads up from the “head of the city”. abuseofpowerHow about appointments to the various civic agencies, boards or committees? There’s this lovely lady, a good friend of a good friend. A great fit on the X board. Just some friendly advice from the “head of the city”.

Of course, we have rules against that sort of thing, just like there are rules about the role of security at City Hall. But if they are ignored, if those in charge of enforcing the rules, especially those sitting at the very top, look the other way, then those rules are meaningless, nothing but computer bytes and marks on a page. Rules made even less meaningful if, upon receiving a report detailing the flouting of those rules, our elected officials chose to undermine and attack the offices and staff empowered to investigate and report the abuse of those rules.

That’s why today’s report is important, why it can’t be simply put up on the shelf to collect dust, filed under just another episode of the Ford Follies. Mistakes were made, system failure detected. We need to reinforce the concept of just who exactly is the “head of the city”, underlining the fact that, no, no, it isn’t the mayor, any mayor.

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A Matter Of Accountability

March 24, 2015

If John Tory, upon taking over the mayor’s office, had really wanted to signal a break with his predecessor’s administration, he’d have gone all in in supporting City Hall’s accountability offices. hulksmashSerious breaches of city council’s code of conduct were numerous and investigated by the Integrity Commissioner. Public complaints about ‘the administration of city government’ to the Ombudsman’s office skyrocketed. Both offices were overwhelmed with work and requests without the proper resources to fully respond.

Yet, he didn’t. His support for both offices through his first budget process was tepid, at best, calculated at worst. At the budget committee wrap up meeting, a motion was passed to cut requests for increased staff in the Ombudsman and Integrity Commissioner’s offices to zero, none, zip. Public pushback resulted in Mayor Tory’s motion at city council the following week to restore, ever so slightly, a fraction of those requests, including 1 new staffer (of the 6 asked for) for the Ombudsman. Just enough to be able to say publicly, We love the work these offices do! while still being able to keep a straight face.

The current Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, was so grateful and impressed by the gesture that she subsequently decided not to seek reappointment to her post in the fall, a reappointment that should’ve happened two years ago, a full reappointment denied her by city councillors not happy with some of her findings. thanksfornothing(That is another sad, sordid story completely.)

“Council is not living up to the commitment of fairness and independent oversight that was promised in the City of Toronto Act,” the Ombudsman said during yesterday’s announcement. “The debate on my reappointment next week promises to be divisive, and I feel this will hurt the office, and its efforts to ensure fairness for the city’s residents.”

Mayor Tory could’ve stepped up and championed the Ombudsman, tried to dampen the divisiveness. He didn’t, only applauding Ms. Crean for a job well done with “gusto and determination”. Don’t let the door hit you… Here’s your hat. What’s your hurry?

Now, I’m not going to impugn the mayor with questionable motives for his lukewarm support of the Ombudsman but I will say, just in terms of optics, you’d think Mayor Tory would want the perception of his defending of the city’s accountability offices rock solid and airtight. whatsyourhurryGiven the number of potential conflicts of interest he might be subject to, largely through his connections to Rogers, (I mean how many votes did he sit out for that very reason at last council meeting?), the last thing he’d want is to appear lackadaisical in his views of the oversight officers. Last term was beset with the tumult such an attitude from the mayor’s office established. Mayor Tory could’ve delivered a real break with that.

He didn’t, and my best guess is that he (or his staff) is listening to all the wrong people on the issue. Councillors with an axe to grind with either or both the Integrity Commissioner or Ombudsman. Councillors unhappy with being under the oversight microscope, and taking their findings personally rather than professionally. Thin-skinned public servants unhappy with public scrutiny of their performance.

The company you keep, am I right?

“I had hoped, following the recent election, that the political climate surrounding the ombudsman’s office would have changed,” the Ombudsman said. stainedshirt“When I saw the divisive nature of the debate at budget committee, I made the decision over the past week that I would not seek reappointment.”

Mayor Tory had an opportunity to change the tone between city council and its accountability officers, from adversarial to a more cooperative one. He didn’t. He merely shrugged, unwilling to spend any political capital on the matter as if it wasn’t really that important to him. Now he gets to wear the Ombudsman’s departure because it’s all on him.

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Rules Are For Others

April 23, 2014

Let’s suppose for a moment that the Toronto Community Housing Corporation is a big steaming pile of a mess. fierybuildingsThere is evidence to support such a supposition. Hundreds of millions of dollars in state of good repair needed. An impossibly long waiting list of prospective tenants. Tales of cockroaches, bed bugs and fire inducing hoarding.

Let’s also suppose that the fault for all this lies solely with TCHC management. The rot starts at the head, it is said. There is less evidence to support such an assumption but go with me on this for a bit. There were all those chocolates a few years ago. Spa retreats. Yaddie, yaddie.

Something stinks here. Something’s broken. All the king’s men and all the king’s horses…

So obviously, what the TCHC needs is a good shake-up. An ol’ fashion ass-kickin’. Names will be taken later but right now, all bets are off. These HR rules and regulations are what got us into this pickle in the first place, creating a cushy culture of complacency and cosy comfort. Time to bring the pain. Hello, culture of fear.

We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!yosemitesam

Terminate with extreme prejudice.

Even if we’d arrived at such a situation, even if such measures of disregard for protocol and standard operating procedure that the Ombudsman uncovered under TCHC CEO Gene Jones were effective outside of the movies or a flagging sports franchise (and listening to the interview with Schulich School of Business professor Alan Middleton on Metro Morning, it seems highly dubious they are), even if you adhere to some variation of the ends justifying means, what exactly were the ends? Surely Mr. Jones and other members of the TCHC board had a plan, an and then what. We shake this shit up and then..?

If there was some kind of strategy, some method to the madness, to the culture of fear, it hasn’t seemed to have surfaced. The logical follow up to the untendered hirings and firings without cause has yet to make itself evident. shakeitupWe await the appearance of the omelette after the breaking of all those eggs.

Order needs to be restored. Otherwise this just seems like summary executions for the sake of giving the appearance of something being done. Filling the depleted ranks with loyalists and call it The New Team, Under New Management. Fine. So, now what?

Besides, if such a purge was necessary to get the TCHC house in order, as they say, why ignore the rules that were in place to do it? If you have to fire people without cause, maybe you should take a moment to think about it first. Just because is another way of saying without cause. Just because is a pretty flimsy foundation. It’s awfully close to just because I can.

Unless Gene Jones can stand up to public scrutiny and explain why he did what he did since taking over the TCHC, citybuildingand what exactly his plans are going forward because of the course of action he has taken, this simply smacks of petty tyrant shit. A man with no plan except to show up, terrorize the staff into submission, surround himself with loyalists he doesn’t even have the confidence in to subject them to normal hiring practices. Because… well, because… that’s what he was hired to do.

If Gene Jones has no plan other than to wreak havoc on the TCHC, it is simply the sad reflection of the man who remains in his corner, defiantly. Let’s face it. Mayor Rob Ford’s approach to governance is no more extensive or involved than just that. Wreak havoc. Instill a culture of fear and intimidation. Surround himself with friends, allies and toadies to help him out in his righteous indignation with government. The Ford way.

The mayor’s never made much pretense in his attitude toward social housing and City Hall’s involvement in it. Privatize. Sell it off. Vouchers for tenants to contend out there in the free market. Governtexaschainsawmassacrement shouldn’t be in the business of…

You’ve heard that song and dance before.

I imagine in Mayor Ford’s eyes, Gene Jones did absolutely nothing wrong. He’s a doer not a talker. He gets things done, shakes it up a little. And if there’s a mess left behind, it’s hardly the fault of Gene Jones. It’s just further proof that anything government gets involved in just turns to shit. That’s what governments do best. Gene Jones, not unlike the mayor, is simply another victim to the ruinous presence of government in our lives.

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A Sad Reflection

February 18, 2014

Last week, the Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, released her office’s 2013 annual report. badnewseveryoneIt did not paint a pretty picture of the interface between the city’s bureaucracy and its residents. Complaints were up 28% over 2012 with a solid majority of them having to do with ‘poor communications and inadequate information provided by city staff.’

“It’s not returning phone calls, it’s rudeness,” Ms. Crean stated, “it’s problems that need fixing in a timely fashion such as basement flooding, where no responses are occurring or little to no explanation is provided.”

That probably only serves to confirm what many already believe about our civil servants. Unhelpful. Lazy. Rude. Overpaid and underworked, the lot of them.

It may be worth pointing out, I think, 2013 contained more than a few unexpected and unwelcome turn of events that put undue pressure on city services. The torrential rain of early July and the ice storm in late December spring immediately to mind. While no excuse for bad or uncooperative behaviour, especially if these so-called 100 year type storms begin happening on a more frequent basis, it would be charitable to chalk up at least some of the problems in communication and inadequate information provision to staff being caught both unprepared and undermanned for such unexpected turn of weather events.

As the report points out, there are more than 2500 vacant positions currently in the ranks of the city’s civil service. complaintsWe hear about the big ones, the chronic shortages in departments like planning. Gapping, is the euphemism used to suggest that short staffing is a temporary situation. Let’s just get past this little rough patch. Then we can start filling the roster back up.

While it may warm the cockles of the cold, cold hearts of everyone who sees four guys gathered around one pothole in the road as proof the city is bloated with useless workers, the success of any municipality ultimately lies in its ability to provide residents with day-to-day services. That can’t be done on the cheap or without the necessary number of bodies to deliver the necessary services. Or, at least not yet, with robots. Believing otherwise is simply wishful, ideological thinking.

“There’s no question that resources are tight,” the Ombudsman said. “It’s a difficult time to be a public servant. The stress is tremendous, but there’s never an excuse for poor communication.”

Obviously one of the prerequisites to working for the city, particularly if it’s a job interacting directly with the public, should be a certain grace and unflappability in the face of even the harshest of approaches by those you’ve been hired to serve. complaints2It comes with the territory. Being surly or unfriendly only feeds into the anti-bureaucracy sentiment that bubbles perpetually just below the surface in the public’s imagination.

Interestingly, the report suggests that the antagonism isn’t purely a one-way street. “…  complainants are becoming more hostile,” the Ombudsman writes. “Citizens have shouted at and cussed her staff, and security has had to be called to intervene.”

Ms. Crean generously talks about that dynamic in terms of people becoming more desperate. “There are more frustrated residents,” she told reporters which “may reflect ‘growing social inequality’”.

“We have more complaints from seniors, from people who are poor, from people with disabilities, people with diminished capacity.”

“People are becoming poorer; the waiting list for subsidized child care is over 15,000 now. The number of working poor has spiked from about 16 per cent to 21 per cent.”

“The greater the marginalization, the more residents depend on public services.”complaints1

And it probably doesn’t help when there’s an administration at City Hall that has forged its reputation as gravy stoppers. As much as the Ford team has picked away at perceived councillor extravagances like office budgets, snacks and retirement parties, it has also hit on, time and time again, finding efficiencies. No matter how many reports are paid for and come back telling everybody that the city runs a pretty tight ship and operates near peak efficiency, there’s always more to cut, more to slash and burn.

That’s the services you want and those that provide them to you, folks.

Never mind the fact that the mayor and his dwindling band of supporters consistently vote against all those things that the Ombudsman believes are making people more desperate and cranky. Subsidized child care. After school and nutritional programs. A continued lack of funding for the repair backlog for TCHC with a preference for selling off its stock instead.texaschainsawmassacre

It’s a double sided machete of underfunding programs and services while berating and belittling city staff for not providing those programs and services with a smiling face and peppy personality. Demanding excellent customer service without any sort of support for the chances of doing just that.

Little wonder everybody involved is cranky, frustrated and more than a little stressed out.

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Answering To No One

October 25, 2012

At a meeting with Mayor Ford to discuss his reply, he acknowledged that at the time of the radio program he had not read the Walking and Cycling Report in full, although he had been briefed on it by staff. Mayor Ford acknowledged that he had not read the Ontario Public Health Standards, 2008 (the “Health Standards”), published by the Ministry of Health to guide Ontario mandatory health programs.

From the Integrity Commissioner’s latest report to find Mayor Ford in yet another breach of an article of the city’s Code of Conduct, I’ve bolded the portion which, for me, epitomizes this administration’s whole approach to governing. Half-cocked. Ill-thought out. Oblivious. All with a hardy helping of complete and utter disregard and disinterest in the rules of the democratic process.

The mayor and his brother go on their Sunday radio show, slag a city staff report without actually having read it, then proceed to demean and vaguely threatened the staffer who wrote it. “Nuts, nuts, nuts,” the mayor called the report’s proposal to lower city speed limits to 30 k/hr. He then referred to the Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown’s salary as “embarrassing” and promised to “look into it”. Councillor Doug got into the act, wondering “Why does he [McKeown] still have a job?”

Article XII of the Code of Conduct requires members of Council to “be respectful of the role of staff to provide advice based on political neutrality and objectivity and without undue influence from any individual member or faction of the Council. Accordingly, no member shall maliciously or falsely injure the professional or ethical reputation of the prospects or practice of staff, and all members shall show respect for the professional capacities of staff.”

It’s bad enough that their churlish outburst stems, at least in part, from a shocking lack of knowledge about protocol, the basic dos-and-don’ts of behaviour for an elected official but then, as this morning’s other bombshell from another of the city’s Accountability Officers, the Ombudsman, shows they refuse to admit to any wrongdoing. Instead, they chose to obfuscate, bluster and lash out in attempts to smear anyone who questions them.

Remember earlier this month when the Ombudsman issued a report citing the mayor’s office interfered with the civic appointments process? During the investigation, it was alleged that the mayor’s office had sent around a list of candidates they wanted appointed to various posts. A no-no and one vigorously denied by committee members, councillors Ford, Mammoliti and Nunziata.

“You went on in your report continually about these lists and how people talked about lists but the lists were never provided,” Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti said to [Ombudsman Fiona] Crean, grilling her at city council. She admitted not having a list in hand but was convinced that enough people had confirmed its existence under oath and subpoena to make it a likely possibility.

Hah!

Hearsay and innuendo.

Except now, Ms. Crean does have the list.

That’d be what you’d call a gotcha.

Now, any reasonable politician would view the news as problematic and very likely something that should be addressed head on. But as we all know by now, that’s just not how the Fords roll. Full steam ahead, half-cocked, ill thought out, oblivious, bluster set to stun.

On the radio today, talking about his first two years in office, Mayor Ford basically gave any of his problems the Sinatra shrug. Regrets? I’ve had a few. But then again, too few (minor) to mention.

His brother did him one better, dialing up the denial and derision button to eleven. In response to the Integrity Commissioner’s report, Councillor Ford basically flipped her the finger. “I’m just going to give the integrity commissioner 10 sheets that say, ‘I, Doug Ford, apologize to — a blank name — for anything that I’ve said in the past and anything I’m going to say in the future.’ I’ll just sign it, and she can just fill in the name.”

I learn nothing. I apologize for nothing. You can’t make me. You’re not the boss of me.

Half way through this administration’s maladministration, we shouldn’t be surprised by such petulance and impenitence.  Their sense of entitlement is simply off the charts and they exhibit an absolute nonchalance toward following the rules their colleagues must follow. If anyone’s at fault, it’s everyone who insists on calling them out on their bad behaviour.

You do it too. Everybody does. Prove it. We don’t have to. We say it. So it’s true.

Par for the course.

Still, I find it difficult to believe that even a media organ like the Toronto Sun (yes, the Toronto Sun) can continue to be so blasé toward such egregiously outlandish conduct from our elected officials. In an editorial today, the Sun delivers what it views as a ‘fair assessment’ of Mayor Ford’s performance so far. Only one paragraph is dedicated to the mayor’s shortcomings while in office — “…too stubborn, too confrontational and too pre-occupied with coaching his high school football team…” – and without a single reference to his continued running afoul of the city’s Accountability Officers. Not one.

It’s almost as if, for the mayor’s most ardent supporters, the notion of democracy, transparency and accountability are beside the point. Winning should translate into unhindered power to do whatever it is you think you were elected to do. Demanding they follow the rules is little more than bad sportsmanship and cry baby whining from their ideological opponents.

The Fords are merely taking advantage of that sentiment. Unless we do something about that, we have nobody to blame for the state of affairs but ourselves.

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