Will history mis-remember the TCHC crisis?

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

I'm not usually someone who supports political boards, councils and commissions over employees, but something about the recent controversy at the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) makes me think twice about my prejudice. This time, I think City Council has chosen the wrong target to blame for the current crisis at TCHC.

Last week, City of Toronto Auditor General Jeffry Griffiths released a scathing report on business and personal practices of staff at the TCHC. Mayor Rob Ford and his allies on City Council led an assault on the members of the Board of Directors of TCHC -- a group of citizens and politicians that Council itself appointed and two members that residents of the various TCHC properties chose to represent them on the board.

The Mayor demanded that all 13 board members resign; two councillors and seven citizen members did so immediately. Wednesday night, Council voted to force the other four - Councillors Maria Augimeri and Raymond Cho and tenant representatives Catherine Wilkinson and Dan King - off the board.

My problem with the issue? Surely, it isn't the board's job to review the day-to-day operations of the agency: that's the job of the Chief Executive Officer and her staff. The board, like other agencies such as the Toronto Transit Commission - and in fact, City Council itself -mostly approves high-level initiatives, new programs and policies, not the detailed nitty gritty of the daily operation of the housing authority.

The media have rightly fulminated against waste and mismanagement at TCHC. They've commented publicly that instead of using money to repair housing units or otherwise look after the needs of tenants, the corporations spend funds instead to pamper employees. They've worried about TCHC possibly mishandling contacts with suppliers.

However, the media is wrong in demanding that City Council fire the board for these misdeeds. It's not the board's job to oversee - in detail --- the areas where mismanagement may have occurred. Reporters should square the blame where it belongs -- inside the organization and demand that the board discipline or dismiss staff, if it must do so to set things right.

Publicly ousting the board unjustly tarnishes the former members of that body unnecessarily. Members of the public who don't read the news carefully will remember the incident inaccurately and blame the board members for spendthrift and irresponsible activities that they, in fact, have no control over, nor would likely have any information about.

The City and its agencies employ more than 40,000 people. While the majority of those employees are hard-working and dedicated, inevitably in so large a group some bad apples appear. If City Council deposes the TCHC board as soon as some impropriety among its employees occurs, will it also the same to other legislative bodies when other employees misbehave? Will Council ask the Toronto Transit Commissioners to resign if an audit reveals mismanagement at the TTC? More to the point, will the Mayor demand the he and his fellow members of City Council resign en masse, if a reporter or member of the public finds that City employees are misappropriating City funds? Not likely.

Who knows what's really going on, what's really the point of purging the board and replacing it with a single manager? We'll find out in due course, but don't be surprised if the move turns out not to benefit the very people we should most be concerned with: the 160,000 vulnerable Torontonians who live in Toronto Community Housing.

Photo by Mr. Kevino in the blogTO Flickr pool

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