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Where the TCHC Scandal Goes From Here

CEO Gene Jones could find himself out of job on Friday—but his supporters are starting to hit back at the ombudsman.

Photo by That Boy, from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

In response to ombudsman Fiona Crean’s scathing report on hiring and practices at the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, the organization’s board of directors held a special meeting yesterday. No decisions were reached, however, because the board determined it needed more time to review the 111-page document and adjourned the meeting until Friday.

The report presents a damning indictment of the social housing agency’s hiring and firing practices, details arbitrary raises given to certain executives, and holds higher-ups responsible for an “abject failure of leadership” that fostered a “climate of fear” in the workplace. It finds that CEO Gene Jones made impulsive and arbitrary decisions contrary to established HR policies and procedures—policies and procedures with which he admitted he was not familiar.

It’s possible the board of directors could decide to fire Gene Jones, who’s served as the CEO of TCHC since June 2012, at Friday’s meeting. But there will be some resistance to this option. Councillor and TCHC board member Cesar Palacio (Ward 17, Davenport) told reporters yesterday that Jones has done a “phenomenal” job and added in an April 2 council meeting that “there has been tremendous changes for the better, especially since the new CEO was hired. [Jones] brought transparency, accountability, openness, with that level of passion, integrity that Toronto Community Housing is changing for the better.”

Board member Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston) has also been a strong supporter. After Jones was admonished by the TCHC board in February for not being aware of HR salary protocols, Nunziata said, “He’s done the best job ever for this corporation.” Doug Ford, too, rose to the CEO’s defence yesterday, unwittingly evoking Harvey Dent by saying, “I believe in Gene Jones.” And last night on Joe Warmington’s Newstalk 1010 radio show, Mayor Rob Ford called into question the motivations and overall usefulness of the ombudsman. “I think they’re just trying to kneecap [Gene Jones],” he told the Sun columnist, adding, “I don’t know why we’re paying millions and millions of dollars to all of these accountability officers.”

Ford has tried to discredit accountability officers in the past, and last night suggested consolidating their different responsibilities—which are mandated by the City of Toronto Act—into one office. This could suggest where the debate about the ombudsman’s report might be headed. Regardless of what the TCHC board decides, the ombudsman’s report will head to council in two weeks to be debated at its May meeting. But at that same meeting, council will also discuss whether to re-appoint the ombudsman—which could set up a situation in which council would essentially have to choose between Fiona Crean and Gene Jones.

At City Hall today, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) referred to Crean and the two other accountability officers as “goons for the left.” (Mammoliti is himself currently facing multiple ethics controversies, one involving a court battle over campaign finance violations that, if it results in his conviction, could prohibit him from running for re-election.)

Crean told Torontoist that Mammoliti’s comment was unfortunate, saying, “My job is to investigate matters, and that’s what I’ve done.” She added that she does so without any political agenda, and that she investigates individuals of all stripes: “So long as someone is mad at me, I’m probably doing my job.”

Asked how the TCHC scandal compares to others she has seen, Crean responded, “In my 30 years of experience, I have never seen such a flagrant abuse of policy.”

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