The chair of the Sony Centre is fighting back against plans by the city to oust the theatre’s board of directors, even as new information surfaces about the unconventional role the chief executive officer played in a multimillion-dollar renovation, personally designing all the washrooms and parts of the foyer.
Board chair Ronald Forbes describes a move this week by the city’s audit committee to get rid of the theatre’s eight citizen directors as a “coup,” designed to score political points in an election year. Council is expected to vote next month on whether to replace the Sony Centre directors with an interim board made up of three of the city’s most senior managers and three city councillors. The measures would place the theatre under tighter city supervision while a new CEO is selected and until the next term of council.
“It is extremely disrespectful. We are going to be actively disputing this with the city,” Mr. Forbes said in an interview. The eight volunteer citizen directors who sit on the existing board along with four city councillors are considering their options, he said, including hiring a lawyer.
Mr. Forbes’s remarks follow the release this month of a scathing report by the city’s auditor-general that found a litany of accounting irregularities in relation to a multimillion-dollar renovation of the theatre, including sole-source contracts and missing paperwork. None of the citizen directors were on the board during the period targeted by the audit from 2006 to 2011, he noted.
The cost of the theatre’s makeover, which ballooned from $28.5-million to more than $40-million, was to be financed by the sale of development rights for a 57-storey condo tower. About $4-million in work still needs to be done, but the money from the condo deal has been spent and the city is on the hook for as much as $10-million, the audit found.
One topic not included in the audit is the fact that the theatre’s CEO, Dan Brambilla, a lawyer, personally did part of the design work. His website includes a photo gallery with shots of the theatre’s sinks, urinals and toilet stalls with the caption, “All bathroom designs by Dan Brambilla.” A picture of the theatre’s main foyer states, “Sony Centre – lobby lighting and video wall designed by Dan Brambilla.”
Mr. Brambilla did not respond to questions about how he came to do the design work. On the main page of his site, he urges visitors to “look around” and “enjoy the journey.”
“Building this site turned out to be quite a revelation for me,” it states. “Until now, I really didn’t focus on all of the very diverse things I’ve done.”
Mr. Forbes, who was not a member of the board when the work was done, said he was not aware that the CEO was involved in design. “I didn’t even know he had a website,” he said.
Toronto Auditor-General Jeff Griffiths said his investigation of the theatre’s renovation did not examine the CEO’s role as a designer. He could not say how the design work was paid for or whether it was tendered.
Councillor Michael Thompson, who is not on Sony Centre board but raised concerns more than a year ago about the management of the theatre, was shocked to hear about Mr. Brambilla’s design work. “What the hell is he doing designing bathrooms,” Mr. Thompson said. “He had his head in the wrong door. He should have had his head in the oversight door, not the bathroom door.”