Editor's Note: The original newspaper version of this article and this online version incorrectly said Toronto Community Housing is facing a wrongful-dismissal lawsuit. In fact, it has been settled for undisclosed terms.
The Toronto Community Housing Corporation is facing a wrongful-dismissal lawsuit from a former “smart-energy” official amid a spate of firings and hirings since Eugene Jones became chief executive.
The churn atop the Canada’s largest social-housing agency has garnered the attention of the Toronto Ombudsman, who is to issue a report on Tuesday about high turnover and questionable hiring.
The report by Toronto Ombudsman Fiona Crean on the agency’s human resources policies and practices was months in the making. More than 40 per cent of the people who were top earners at TCHC when Mr. Jones was appointed are no longer in those jobs, according to a Globe and Mail analysis.
Ms. Crean’s report will land at a time when the housing agency has been trying to secure $2.6-billion from all levels of government to eliminate a repair backlog and fix up aging residential properties over the next decade. It will also address concerns from city staff about stewardship at the organization that came amid reports the publicly financed agency has dismissed too many employees, leading to costly severance packages, and not followed proper procedures for hiring new staff.
Such allegations have put Mr. Jones’s leadership in question less than two years after he was brought in to cut the agency’s costs and change its culture.
Some top-earning TCHC officials have lately said they were arbitrarily dismissed. Philip Jeung says in court documents that, two weeks before Christmas, 2013, he was fired as the agency’s director of energy conservation. His lawsuit alleges the 61-year-old was dismissed from the $114,000-a-year job “because of his age.”
In February, the municipal board that oversees the TCHC voted to strip Mr. Jones of the bonus portion of his $271,000 a year salary and force him into leadership lessons over allegations that he unilaterally fired his chief operating officer even though he lacked the authority to do so. Hired last year after an extensive search, the COO lasted just four months.
Now, for second time in three months, the TCHC board will take a hard look at what’s being going on in the executive ranks. The board will meet in private with the Ombudsman on Tuesday after the report is released, and hold a public meeting on Friday. “I have concerns and I have a lot of questions I’d like to ask in camera tomorrow,” Maria Augimeri, a city councillor and board member, said in an interview on Monday.
Mr. Jones came to Toronto from Detroit as a seasoned housing executive in the summer of 2012.
He created controversy last year when he announced that he would steer more repair funds to housing projects whose residents called tips in to police.
While the housing board has lately challenged Mr. Jones’s authority, the CEO still has unqualified support from Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
In the lawsuit, Mr. Jeung, who could not be reached for comment, is seeking up to $500,000 in damages, and $100,000 for injury to his “dignity, feelings, and self-respect.” In 2012, he and his TCHC working group were credited with helping save Toronto taxpayers save nearly $1-million through their energy conservation measures.
Lawyers for the TCHC deny the allegations of ageism, but concede Mr. Jeung was let go “without cause.” Such lawsuits are rare. Like most organizations, the TCHC prefers not to settle personnel problems in court.
A Globe analysis of the TCHC top earners, as reflected in the Ontario government’s “Sunshine List” of top salaries, indicates that turnover has been substantial in the upper echelons.
The list, released three weeks ago, shows the 55 such earners at the TCHC who collectively earned nearly $7-million last year, included many new hires and people in new positions.
For the past three years, the number of TCHC employees on the list and their collective earnings have remained constant, even though many names have changed.