Last month the mayor's allies swore there was no list of preferred candidates for public appointments. And yet it seems that there was.
City council convened at 9:30 a.m. today, to discuss a report [PDF] from Toronto ombudsman Fiona Crean, who has come under fire from several Rob Ford allies lately for “politicizing” her role, after she released a report critical of the mayor’s office. Her report concerned interference from the mayor’s office in the public-appointments process, which oversees the selection of citizens to sit on the boards of directors of many of the City’s key agencies, boards, and commissions (ranging from the police to the library system). Those boards collectively manage about half the City’s budget and one third of its staff. And the mayor’s office, the ombudsman found, interfered in the process in a number of ways. One of those ways, apparently: circulating a list of preferred candidates for those public appointments.
Last month, when Crean first released her report, she noted that several people involved in the process had told her about the list, but since there was some conflicting evidence and no actual list had been discovered, she couldn’t say one way or another whether such a list existed. She was lambasted by several councillors for writing a report based on “hearsay” and falling prey to those who were politically motivated to undermine the mayor; several councillors vehemently denied that any such list existed.
At the same time they were berating her, we know now, someone in an office in City Hall discovered what seems to be the list in question. It was the subject of an addendum to the ombudsman’s report [PDF], which is why councillors were debating this all again today. Again, the debate got heated. And again, after several hours of debate, they unanimously accepted the ombudsman’s findings—critics included.
Why does any of this matter so much? Why should we care if there was a list or not?
From the City’s public-appointments policy [PDF]:
[A] Member of Council shall not provide a reference in support of an applicant for an appointment to a City Agency, Board or Commission, or any other position or office with the City of Toronto, unless that Member of Council has had an employment or other relevant relationship (such as that of teacher or volunteer group supervisor) with the person requesting the reference… [F]or the purposes of these rules, providing a reference includes both written and verbal references and any other form of intervention on behalf of the person in question.
The public-appointments process is meant to ensure that the most qualified and suitable candidates are selected in an “open, competitive, and equitable” way. The goal of the above passage is to prevent councillors from interfering in that process to favour people on irrelevant grounds. If you, as a councillor or mayor, worked with a candidate and can speak to their qualifications as their employer, that’s relevant. If they are your constituent, or dentist, or second cousin once removed—or, most critically, campaign donor—that doesn’t preclude them from getting the job, but you as a member of council certainly shouldn’t try to use your influence to advance their chances on those irrelevant grounds.
The ombudsman has made several recommendations to improve the appointments process, all of which have already been endorsed by council.