Mayor Rob Ford has succeeded in dumping the last four members of Toronto Community Housing Corp.'s board, beating back the most concerted challenge yet from his left-leaning opponents.
Council voted 25 to 18 to temporarily replace the embattled housing agency's board with retired councillor and Ford ally Case Ootes after a 6½-hour special meeting that ended just before midnight Wednesday.
Addressing reporters shortly afterward in the first few minutes of his 100th day in office, Mr. Ford said he was "very happy" with the decision.
"This is the first step taken to restore confidence back in Toronto Community Housing and tenants are going to be happy," the mayor said, as a few dozen TCHC tenants denounced him from outside the news conference.
"It's another huge victory for the taxpayers," he added.
Mr. Ootes - whose appointment as interim director Mr. Ford said remained confidential, even after the vote - will function as a one-man board until June 15 at the latest, council decided.
Two motions that would have effectively denied Mr. Ootes pay failed; the mayor voted against both.
"We're not going to have someone come in here and do it for free. People work and they deserve a paycheque," Mr. Ford said.
Canada's largest affordable-housing provider has been in turmoil since the city's auditor-general lambasted it for lavish spending and inappropriate purchasing practices in two reports made public Feb. 28.
Mr. Ford asked the entire 13-member board to resign the day the audits were released.
Seven citizen board members agreed, as did two of the four councillors on the board, Frances Nunziata and John Parker.
Councillors Raymond Cho and Maria Augimeri refused, along with two elected tenant representatives.
The councillors were all appointed after Mr. Ford's election and have attended only one meeting of the housing corporation's board.
An emotional Ms. Augimeri said she was "a little upset" by the outcome of the vote. She also criticized Mr. Ford for voting against a motion that would have prevented Mr. Ootes from collecting both severance pay from his former position as a councillor and money for serving as interim director.
"Ford was always opposed to double-dipping before he became mayor and now he's going to allow it," she said. "There was no coherent rationale for why there were doing this."
Now that Mr. Ootes has the powers of the board, he could fire TCHC CEO Keiko Nakamura, who has so far refused Mr. Ford's request that she quit.
Several councillors pressed Mr. Ford on that point during the meeting.
"It'd be up to his discretion. I wouldn't be dictating to him," the mayor told council.
He added later: "You know my position is quite clear. I did ask the CEO to resign. I've asked everybody on the board to resign ... I haven't changed my position on that and I will not."
Earlier in the meeting, steam appeared to be gathering for a compromise proposed by rookie Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam on behalf of council's left-leaning minority.
Rather than make Mr. Ootes a one-man board, Ms. Wong-Tam moved a motion that would have prevented the remaining four board representatives from being removed and added Mr. Ootes as chair of a five-member board.
The five would have acted as a caretaker board until a full 13-member board could be restored.
"It is an elegant motion. It is a fair compromise," Councillor Joe Mihevc said.
Ms. Wong-Tam's plan lost 19 to 24.
Another effort by the left to defer the entire matter until the auditor-general's reports could be considered by committee failed 17 to 25.
Ms. Wong-Tam said she was disheartened by the failure of her motion.
"I had councillors coming up to me saying they would love to support my motion, that it was fair and well considered, but that they would get in trouble," she said. "I hope those councillors who had that gut reaction find their political courage as this council progresses."
The left did, however, win one surprising victory.
Councillor Shelley Carroll moved a motion calling for a review of the housing provider's procurement practices and that the corporation "immediately post on the TCHC website, all expense records of all TCHC board members and all TCHC staff members whose salaries exceed $100,000."
It carried by 22 to 21, with both the mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, voting no.
Asked why he opposed posting the expenses online, the mayor refused to answer, cutting off his news conference after 2 minutes and 19 seconds.
"There was only one motion out of about 15 of them that actually addressed the auditor-general's concerns and the brothers Ford voted against it," Ms. Carroll said. "Thank god 22 councillors had the good sense to support it."
Earlier Wednesday, council's speaker stymied an attempt by Councillor Pam McConnell to open the special meeting to speeches from the public, including tenants.
The speaker ruled her request out of order, and Mr. Ford was among those who voted to uphold her ruling.
Nearly 250 onlookers, many of them TCHC tenants, packed the chambers for the special meeting, called after the mayor failed to muster the two-thirds vote he needed to put his plan on the council floor Tuesday.
At the start of the meeting, the crowd whooped and clapped whenever a left-leaning councillor landed a rhetorical blow against the mayor.
When Speaker Nunziata, a Ford acolyte, threatened to eject audience members who refused to keep quiet, Councillor Paula Fletcher suggested they silently twirl their fingers instead.
From then on, a wave of jazz hands broke out every time a councillor dinged Mr. Ford. As the debate dragged into the wee hours opposing councillors began to taunt one another with menacing jazz hands.
The early portion of the special session was consumed by questions to the mayor, city staff and the auditor-general.
However, the speaker ruled questions about the substance of the auditor-general's reports off-limits.
Some councillors proceeded to refer obliquely to the "reports that shall not be named."
According to Jeff Griffiths's reports, profligate spending at the housing corporation ranged from $200,000 in inappropriate expenditures to undocumented millions in improperly sole-sourced contracts.
The mayor seized on the findings, trying to make good on his election promise of stopping the gravy train.
Ms. Fletcher pressed the mayor on whether he had sought the advice of the auditor-general, the city manager or the city's lawyers before asking the board and CEO to fall on their swords.
"No," he replied. "I sought the advice of the most important body and that's the taxpayers that called and e-mailed my office over and over again."