All eight citizen directors of Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts have resigned, the latest upheaval at the city-owned theatre, which is facing questions about oversight and cost overruns for a renovation that has yet to be finished.
The eight directors – volunteers who sit on the board along with four city councillors – resigned en masse on Thursday, less than a week before City Council was scheduled to consider ousting them.
Their departure follows the release of scathing findings from the city’s Auditor-General into construction cost overruns at the city-owned theatre. It also comes on the day The Globe and Mail published an investigation that found the theatre’s chief executive officer, Dan Brambilla, was the subject of an internal probe into his use of theatre funds to prepare a failed management takeover bid.
Mr. Brambilla, who will retire at the end of the month, confirmed that a confidential review by an outside firm was conducted, but said he “was found not to have done anything improper.”
The Globe and Mail discovered the probe centred on his use of the theatre’s outside lawyer to prepare his bid. The law firm later reimbursed the theatre and Mr. Brambilla paid for the work, sources said.
At its meeting next week, council will consider a report from the city’s audit committee that recommends replacing the theatre’s board with interim directors that include senior city managers. The move would put the theatre under tighter city control until after the municipal election and while a new chief executive is selected.
The directors’ resignation letter stresses that the problems the audit found happened before they were appointed. “Media coverage and developments at the city had the effect of unfairly shifting responsibility to us,” it states, later adding, “It is unfortunate that board oversight of the Sony Centre has become politicized, making it impossible for volunteer citizens to effectively serve as board members.”
Councillor David Shiner, a member of the board, said the citizen directors are taking the fall for problems that did not happen on their watch and that city staff should have caught.
He also suggested the move by the audit committee was an attempt by some members of council to install their preferred person to run the theatre.
That theory was dismissed by Councillor Paula Fletcher, a former board member, who earlier this year asked council to get involved in the board’s search for a CEO. “There is no secret plan,” she said.
Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly called the resignations “regrettable.”
“I thought that I was working on a solution that would’ve hopefully bridged both sides on this debate that would’ve kept present board members in place but added other board members to it,” he said.
Some councillors said the problems at the Sony Centre highlight a bigger concern with the proper oversight and scrutiny of Toronto’s numerous governing bodies.
“The city has a real problem with the transparency of agencies, boards and commissions,” Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong said. He said all bodies should be subject to the same standards and reporting rules.
The Sony Centre, unlike the city, for instance, does not report the salaries of employees who make more than $100,000.
An attempt by Councillor Pam McConnell, who recently joined the Sony Centre board, to have agendas and minutes made available online was deferred at the board’s last meeting. “Like any public agency, they are publicly accountable,” she said. “The times of these being private clubs are over.”