Police Chief Bill Blair failed to meet his board’s hard-line budget demands on Friday, sending Mayor Rob Ford and board members into contradicting explanations as to why the force’s budget – the city’s single-biggest expense – remains in limbo and why the board was forced to postpone a public budget meeting.
The board was scheduled to meet at 11:30 a.m. on Friday to debate a new budget proposal from the Chief. The board’s seven members had unanimously rejected a previous submission from Chief Blair because he requested a 1.5 per cent budget increase, defying Mayor Rob Ford’s demand for a 10 per cent cut.
Hunkered down in a tense closed-door session with the chief on Friday morning, board-members decided he had once again missed the mark – by such a margin they refused to open the meeting to the public.
“He found a significant amount of reduction, but we’re not finished yet,” board chair Alok Mukherjee said of Chief Blair’s proposal. “If we go with a half-baked budget and then say we have to do more work, that doesn’t serve anybody’s interest.”
While they were unanimous in deciding to cancel the public meeting, politicians were at odds in their explanations of why.
Emerging from the confidential session, board member Councillor Frances Nunziata said they had cancelled the public presentation not because Chief Blair had fallen short, but because a new member, Andrew Pringle, needed time to catch up on the issues.
Mayor Rob Ford, meanwhile, explained that the board members had received the chief’s latest budget proposal on Friday morning, providing too little time to analyze it. Toronto Police staff later said this wasn’t quite correct, that the chief’s report had in fact arrived the previous night.
The board’s spokeswoman, Sandy Adelson, declined requests to clarify the matter, retreating from reporters at police headquarters and leaving calls unreturned.
At an Oct. 6 meeting, Chief Blair warned that a 10 per cent cut would force him to lay off 1,000 staff. When asked if that figure still seems a possibility, Councillor Michael Thompson, the board’s vice chair, said the board is still mulling “a number that meets our goals and objectives.”
Leading up to last week’s meeting, Mr. Thompson had said that Chief Blair would risk his job if he didn’t present a budget showing a 10 per cent cut. On Friday he was more conciliatory. “We have a good working relationship with respect to the board and the chief,” he said. “Obviously we want to reach good solutions as it relates to the budget.”
The police budget is the city's biggest expense, at $930.4-million for 2011. Nearly 88 per cent of the force's budget is tied up in labour costs.
The board will reconvene on Oct. 19 and present a new budget to the public on Oct. 20.