Toronto council has agreed to tweak the way it selects citizens for 120 municipal boards after the city’s ombudsman came under fire from allies of Mayor Rob Ford during a heated, day-long debate.
Councillors Giorgio Mammoliti and Doug Ford, among others, questioned the veracity of Ombudsman Fiona Crean’s most recent report, which concluded the mayor’s office interfered in the civic appointments process.
“In my opinion, this whole report was based on hearsay evidence, he-said-she-said, or opinions based on political persuasion,” Councillor Ford said.
Mr. Mammoliti added: “I don’t care what the ombudsman says. I think she crossed the line to a degree.”
Ms. Crean told council that her findings contained no hearsay evidence at all. She interviewed more than 40 witnesses under oath and followed a significant paper trail.
Councillor Joe Mihevc praised Ms. Crean for having the “courage” to publish her report.
“She knows this is a highly polarized environment here, in some ways a highly poisonous setting, and she could have ducked,” Mr. Mihevc said.
Ms. Crean’s report, released last week, described how unnamed employees of the mayor’s office meddled in the recruitment and selection process for boards such as the Toronto Parking Authority, the Toronto Police Services Board and the Toronto Public Library Board.
According to the report, the mayor’s aides asked that a line seeking “diverse” candidates be removed from a recruitment advertisement and that ads be kept out of the Toronto Star. The mayor and his office denied those allegations.
Ms. Crean also concluded the appointments process was rushed, leading to one instance where a candidate with a serious conflict of interest nearly won a spot on a board.
Mr. Mihevc demanded an apology from the mayor. He did not get one.
Ms. Crean’s report does not mention anyone by name.
She told reporters that she did not interview the mayor as part of her research because only his aides knew where the appointments process went awry.
“I have no knowledge of any direct involvement on the part of the mayor,” she said.
Mayor Ford did not speak or ask questions during the debate on the ombudsman’s findings.
He slipped out briefly at lunch to check in on his high-school football team at a game in Scarborough, but returned to the chambers before 3 p.m.
In the end, council voted unanimously to endorse Ms. Crean’s six recommendations, including putting a single senior executive in charge of the process; ensuring potential conflicts of interest are flagged in writing; and that those in charge of the process have the resources necessary to do their jobs.
The gulf between council’s left and right sides appeared wider than ever during Thursday’s debate.
There were nasty exchanges that pushed a few councillors nearly to tears.
“To hear some of the comments [Thursday], you would think that someone had committed murder here,” Councillor John Parker, the deputy speaker, said.
“Some of the allegations that have been floating around have been pretty darn alarming. And I would suggest they have not been supported by the report in front of us.”