Toronto's ombudsman has stated in a new report that the mayor's office sped up the civic appointments process so much that it has made a considerable impact on the city's residents.
Fiona Crean, the Ombudsman for Toronto, released a report titled "An Investigation into the Administration of the Public Appointments Policy" today with details of what is taking place at City Hall. This report is a new view into other conflict of interest issues that have plagued the Ford team.
In Toronto the City Council appoints members to the boards of up to 120 agencies that deliver City services. These agencies, boards and commissions impact the operation of the city as they are responsible for about $15 billion of Toronto's assets.
In late 2011 the office of the ombudsman received complaints that there was a lack of diversity among candidates who were selected and that there was a potential conflict of interest according to a report obtained by this journalist.
The City of Toronto has been an award winner when it comes to policy that governs the appointment of residents to Toronto agencies in the past. The Public Appointments Policy (Policy) states that the schedule for appointing new board members should be one of the first things a new Council undertakes after every election. It is based on a number of principles:
Expectations for each position will be clearly communicated to everyone involved in the process.
Candidates will be evaluated on merit, after a broad-based recruitment.
Boards will include members representing the diversity of the City, including women, youth, First Nations, people with disabilities, and racialized communities.
Applicants must identify and disclose any actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest.
When applications are submitted the policy is that the City Clerk's Office checks that they meet all of the eligibility criteria. From there a staff review team from the City Manager's Office is then to review and rank the applicants based on their qualifications. A summary of this review is then given to the Civic Appointments Committee to decide who to interview and recommend to the City Council for the positions.
In 2011 after the election the City Manager's Office proposed to the Mayor's Transition Team that the selection of public appointments should be on the Council's agenda at the earliest opportunity. Ford's office said that it had other priorities, one of which was the Core Services Review.
In April 2011 the City Clerk prepared a draft schedule for member recruitment with timelines. This process was to be done in two phases.
Ford's office wrote to the City Manager's Office on June 8, 2011 saying that the proposed schedule was too long and that staff was to speed up the process by two months. According to Crean's report the staff of the City Manager said that this was "something new". This is not a new thing for the Ford administration. Ford, himself, has said he has not read the handbook given to all City Councillors.
The City Manager responded the next day detailing the problems caused by a faster schedule including that it would be difficult for the Civic Appointments Committee to arrange to meet in August to interview the short-listed candidates.
One of the other concerns in the email was that “It will look to cynics as if the fix is already in for appointments and the process is just for show...We now have a governance process that is no longer based on any recognizable principles.”
On June 13, 2011 Ford's staff asked that the deadline for applications be extended to July 11 so as to avoid the Canada Day weekend. This gave staff only one week to screen and evaluate applicants. For previous recruitment, staff had one month to vet and assess the applications.
The staff prepared an ad for newspapers seeking applications. They were asked to remove a statement that encouraged applications from diverse communities which they did not do. The staff was also told by Ford's office to place the ad in the National Post and the Toronto Sun but not the Toronto Star.
Because of the new schedule required by Ford's office the Civic Appointments Committee were unable to complete the pre-screening and qualification summaries required for the short-listing when they met to short-list the candidates.
A potential conflict of interest was discovered with one of the applicants during the assessment of applicant qualifications by a staff member.
"He told the staff review team that the applicant was known to be actively involved in a business which fell within the board’s jurisdiction, and that the applicant had actively appeared as an agent before the board. The application form submitted by the applicant did not note any conflicts of interest, actual or potential," the report states.
This was not recorded on the candidates summary but it was shared two days later by the staff of the City Manager's Office with the Panel Chair. The Panel Chair requested this information in writing but because of illness the letter was not written.
This information was not shared with the other panel members of the Committee. Because of this questions went unasked during the interview process. The City Manager did however have staff inform the committee and the appliciant was not recommended.
Crean investigated the complaints that were brought to her office as a formal investigation in February 2012. Crean concluded that the Public Appointments Policy that was approved by City Council was not followed and that failure was both unreasonable and wrong.
"The results of this investigation support my abiding concern and ongoing observation about the importance of a separation between legislators and public servants. The facts demonstrate the need for more buffers to better delineate where the roles of elected representative and public servant coincide and where they differ," wrote Crean in the report.
The full report is here.