Ootes TCHC

Should Ford oust Ootes from the TCHC?

The following post was written by guest contributor Robert Mackenzie who is now retired after working at City Hall for 30 years.

I almost spilled my coffee yesterday, when I read City Hall bureau chief Kelly Grant's interview with Councillor Case Ootes. Grant reports that the City is paying Ootes $25,000 to serve as the managing director of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC).

You may remember that last week Mayor Rob Ford called a special meeting of City Council, basically to oust the TCHC board of directors. Council was responding to City Auditor Jeff Griffith's report (despite its being banned from discussion at City Council) on the activities of staff of the public housing company. The report revealed that some staff may have inappropriately awarded contracts to suppliers and mis-spent corporate funds for staff perks.

Last week, I wondered why City Council and some members of the media chose to blame the board for this wrong-doing. Surely the City created the board to create policy and approve budgets for the corporation? Surely the board - like most boards, including Toronto City Council itself - operated at too high a level to receive and review details of the day-to-day operations of as large an organization as TCHC? If Council needed to punish someone or some group for problems in the corporation, surely it would be better to look at the staff, which dealt with daily operations, rather than the board, which didn't.

Nevertheless, Council decided to oust the board and replace it with Ootes as managing director, "for about three months" until it could appoint a new board. Some members of Council, perhaps recognizing that other Councillors were scapegoating the former board for incidents over which they had no control, wanted to make sure that Ootes would indeed have authority over those very expenses and expenditures that caused the trouble in the first place. They introduced a motion, which Council narrowly passed, requiring the new managing director to sign off on all expenses greater than $1,000.

That would have given the board's replacement the ability to prevent staff from misspending funds and from inappropriately awarding contracts to suppliers. This is a power that the original board didn't have, even though Council decided it would blame them for the recent debacle, anyway.

In her article, Grant writes that Ootes' fee for his work is $5,000 more than the housing corporation paid the former chair of the board, David Mitchell. She also quotes Ootes who, apparently, is reluctant to follow Council's request that he sign off all invoices greater than $1,000.

"There's no way that it makes sense for me to approve every invoice over $1,000", he said, adding TCHC processes 5,000 invoices a month. "I will certainly look at the approval process and approval levels, but to have the managing director sign every invoice over $1,000, it's just not feasible."

I'm scratching my head over all of this:

  • Council decides to blame and oust the old board over activities for which it has no responsibility.
  • The board's replacement acknowledges that he also can't take responsibility for the very activities that got staff in trouble and for which Council removed the old board.
  • The managing director costs $5,000 more for just three months work than the former chair got for an entire year.
  • The managing director openly defies the instructions of the highest municipal authority in Toronto — City Council.

Ootes statements reveal the double-standard of this entire farce, and, what's more, he's committing an "oust-able" offence by flagrantly refusing to obey the will of City Council.

Later yesterday, Ootes asked Keiko Nakamura, the chief executive officer to resign. Meanwhile, as this circus plays out, thousands of vulnerable Torontonians live in appalling conditions in TCHC buildings throughout the city. They probably don't care one little bit about the board, Ootes or Nakamura. They just want better places to live.

Photo by St-Even on Flickr.

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