Business as usual

Sue-Ann Levy
Toronto Sun
September 29, 2005

When council meets this morning, there will be lots of talk about how all the rot and secrecy has been swept from City Hall now that the $18-million MFP computer leasing inquiry is over.

I can already hear Mayor David Miller and his minions beating their chests about the dawn of a new era of "enlightenment," respect and openness under their watch.

What a joke! The flow of information at City Hall these days is sealed tighter than an oil drum – and from what I can see, morale is in the dumpster as employees wait to see who will suffer the wrath of the socialists next.

Today, councillors Mike Del Grande and Jane Pitfield will also ask for a tally on the total severances recently paid out to a wave of senior bureaucrats who were recently dismissed without most councillors’ knowledge until after the fact.

Among them, respected Angelos Bacopoulos, solid waste general manager, whose contract was reportedly not renewed with a year to go because his view of the world didn’t jibe with that of the mayor and his leftist inner circle.

Del Grande figures at least nine senior officials have been let go since January. Pitfield doubts allowances were made in the 2005 budget for such severances and wants to know where the money is coming from. It’ll be tough to get answers.

If there was ever a process that sorely needs to be dragged out of the closet, it’s how the city’s $7-billion budget is allocated. I fear the scrutiny will be even far less this year with Pitfield gone from the budget advisory committee.

For taxpayers sake, I’m hoping Coun. Norm Kelly’s newly minted Alternate Budget Committee (ABC) will at least be a thorn in the side of the mayor and his socialist spendaholics.

Kelly’s managed to attract professors from Toronto’s two distinguished business faculties and corporate representatives, along with several councillors. "I would hope that the mayor looks at this seriously . . . I think it’s in his best interest to do that," said Kelly.

If one message came through loud and clear at the ABC’s first meeting earlier this week, it’s the need to make the city’s spending decisions much, much more transparent.

Prof. Richard Irving of York University’s Schulich School of Business told me yesterday the city’s approach to budgeting reminds him of where the business community was in the 1970s – that is, departments aren’t integrated as a team and those best at "game-playing" get the budget spoils.

He’s convinced if they were able to "open up the damn thing" – by providing real-time financial details available through the city’s SAP computer system to a "large number of eyes" – it would be easier to "motivate change" within the city.

Tasha Kheiriddin, Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, thinks taxpayers’ interests are not being "respected" by city officials.

"Nobody really seems to know where the money is going . . . there seems to be a real closed shop (at City Hall)" she said, noting her group has had trouble getting "basic stuff" on how city grants are spent. She added the province is "much more forthcoming."

Lawrence Solomon, executive director of the Urban Renaissance Institute, has innovative ideas on road tolls and garbage collection. He was encouraged by ABC’s agreement about the "culture of secrecy" at City Hall and would like to see Toronto open up its books to everyone.

"It would be hard to ignore recommendations coming out of a committee like this."

Pitfield says she’s "embracing" the opportunity to be on the ABC: "If nothing else it will be a fresh new way of looking at things."


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