The current unseemly squabble going on at City Hall surrounding a report from Fiona Crean, City Ombudsman is worthy of examination from a Weston viewpoint.
First, some background. There are 120 city boards and agencies that run the services provided to residents. For example, the Toronto Police Services Board establishes overall guidelines for the running of police services in consultation with the Chief of Police. While the Chief runs the day to day operations, the Board provides a framework but must keep clear of individual matters. On this board, the province picks three members, and the city gets to pick one. Most other Boards are made up of largely city selected citizens, and councillors. In the case of the Toronto Zoo, the current board comprises eight citizens (selected by the city) and six councillors (it should have eight citizens and four politicians).
The role of citizens on these boards is an important one. Applicants should be chosen carefully so that they are truly representative of the population and not with a hidden agenda or beholden to a special interest group. With this in mind, boards are mandated to advertise vacancies widely, outlining qualification requirements, some of which are quite rigorous. Citizens apply for board positions whenever vacancies arise and en masse after the election of a new council. Staff screen applicants checking that they have the required qualifications and are not lobbyists or in any other conflict of interest.
The Ombudsman’s report clearly finds that protocol was not followed in seeking citizen board members. Among other things the Mayor’s Office:
- shortened candidate screening and evaluation timelines from the usual four weeks to just one.
- directed staff to remove statements in ads encouraging minorities.
- directed staff to boycott Toronto’s largest circulation newspaper (the Toronto Star) when placing ads for positions.
The Ombudsman referred to allegations that the Mayor’s Office had drawn up a list of preferred candidates but that this could not be proved.
In the aftermath since the release of the report some councillors have attacked the credibility of the Ombudsman. Our own councillor, Frances Nunziata acting in her role as speaker correctly asked York West councillor Giorgio Mammoliti to apologize after Mammoliti accused Crean of going beyond her mandate, declaring the report to be politically motivated. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop Ms Nunziata from taking her own pot-shots at Crean by accusing her of not including comments from right-wingers in her report.
What is to be made of this? Should we be worried that the Mayor’s Office has attempted to substantially alter the process of citizen selection? That the Mayor’s office seems willing to discourage diversity among appointees? That an independent investigator whose job it is to protect the public is attacked and accused of bias? Should we be concerned when our councillor (representing one of the most diverse wards in the city) aligns herself with such behaviour?