Illustration by Brett Lamb/Torontoist.
Due to a tumultuous series of events, the entirety of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s board of directors currently consists of one man: Case Ootes. At 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 6, the TCHC will convene a meeting of its board (i.e. of Case Ootes with himself). At this meeting the board will consider a recommendation [PDF], already endorsed by Case Ootes, that the TCHC sell 22 of the houses it owns, recouping their full market value.
Does Case Ootes’ status as sole member of the board of directors make it all too easy for these kinds of decisions to become at best autocratic, and at worst farcical? One can only imagine—and so we did. Rather than making our own assumptions, we decided to spend some pretend-time with Mr. Ootes, one-on-one, to talk about the one-man board and its ability to make decisions effectively.
“Oh, it’s not a problem. Far from it,” says Mr. Ootes as we meet him in his office while he gathers some personal effects for the workday. His desk is a fairly spartan affair, sporting 13 identical sheets outlining the day’s agenda, and a computer with a small Post-it on its monitor reading “WWCOD?” As he performs his daily task of throwing 12 copies of the agenda into the recycling bin, he also tidies up some loose papers that are strewn about, chiding himself for not having cleaned them up before heading home last night. “If you just take those few extra minutes, you’ll really thank yourself the next day. I know I do. Personally. With a note.” He points to just such a note stuck to his cubicle—”Thanks, Case! –Case.”—next to a poster reading “PUT THE I IN TEAM TODAY!”
“The main reason it’s not a problem that I, alone, occupy this crucial position is that I have the trust of the mayor, and I have the trust of the councillors. How have I earned that trust? By being appointed to such a crucial position, of course. How did I get appointed to such a crucial position? The trust, remember? I can draw up a diagram later if you’d like.”
Next, we head to the board’s meeting room, where Ootes has a conference scheduled with himself later in the day. “The timing for this meeting doesn’t really work out for me today, but these things happen. I win some, I lose some. And vice-versa. I could try to change the time, but I don’t tend to allow that kind of nonsense from myself.”
As a former city councillor of 16 years, he believes strongly in the board’s rules of order for such conferences, and so anytime Ootes makes a procedural faux pas, the veteran halts the meeting and censures himself immediately. “I realize this is a strict way of dealing with the offender, but I think it’s the only way I’ll learn not to make the same mistake again. I’d make the same ruling if I were in the other position. Which I am.”
Ootes does understand that the unique situation in which he and the TCHC find themselves could lead to serious concerns on the part of taxpayers. “We at the board have been really thinking of that lately. It’s important to keep everything above board, really keep on top of things, and stay accountable. I’ll give everything that I’ve done a second, even a third look, and say, ‘Does this look fine to me?’ ‘Yes it does,’ I tend to reply.”
“Look,” says Ootes. “Before I started this gig, I had as many doubts as anyone whether it could be done. The mayor said no rush, asked me to take a few days, have a look at the salary, and question myself as to what I thought. As it turned out, I thought it was a great idea. What a relief! You never know until you ask.”
As we wrapped up lunch so Ootes could make his meeting on time—”If I slow down, the whole board slows down, and that’s a fact”—he offered a summary of his feelings on the situation. “Look, here’s your bottom line: this makes things simpler. Rob said to me the other day, ‘Don’t you notice that things get done that much faster when you don’t have to explain yourself?’ And he was right, of course. I don’t know why we didn’t think of this sooner.”
As for whether he thinks he will be able to convince himself to sell the 22 houses, Ootes says only this as we leave him in his empty room: “I take this matter seriously. It’s all about the board and the boss having it out—mano-a-same-mano. I’ll give myself all sides of my story before I make a decision. That way everybody’s voice will be heard.”