A confrontation is brewing over Mayor Rob Ford's push to put his parsimonious budget chief on the Toronto Police Services Board.
The appointment of Councillor Mike Del Grande, which requires the approval of council next week, is facing opposition from some councillors, including one who says Chief Bill Blair has expressed concern the civilian oversight body could become too narrowly focused on dollars and cents.
Councillor Adam Vaughan, a former member of the police-services board and a frequent critic of the mayor, said Chief Blair "raised the flag" over the board's composition in a conversation with him this week.
Mr. Del Grande's potential appointment comes amidst a fierce, ongoing battle between the force and the Ford administration over police spending. The city is demanding police freeze their budget in 2013; Chief Blair says that is impossible without laying off 137 officers and 52 civilians.
Last year, Mr. Ford relaxed his call for cuts to the police budget at the 11th hour.
By tapping Mr. Del Grande to sit on the police board, the Ford administration is sending a strong signal it has no intention of bending this time. The budget chief is a dedicated foot soldier in the mayor's campaign to cut costs who personally delivered his message of zero increases for 2013 to the board this summer.
"[Chief Blair] is worried that the appointments are not about responsible oversight of the police service board, that there is politics being played here," Councillor Vaughan said. "He is very, very worried about that because it creates a situation where the work of the police service board is unnecessarily polarized and politicized and it is irresponsible in his eyes."
A spokesman for Chief Blair said the police boss had a somewhat different recollection of the conversation.
"Chief Blair has spoken time and again of his belief in the absolute necessity of strong civilian oversight," Mark Pugash said. "In his discussion with Councillor Vaughan, Chief Blair spoke of that, as well as the fact that such oversight, to be effective, includes budgets as well as many other important areas."
Neither Mr. Vaughan nor Mr. Pugash said the chief singled out anybody by name. However, the addition of Mr. Del Grande is the only possible change to the board's composition on the horizon.
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, chair of the striking committee that last week tapped Mr. Del Grande as one of three candidates for the police board, confirmed it was the mayor's office that recommended the budget chief for the position.
Councillor Chin Lee, who along with Ford allies Michael Thompson and Frances Nunziata now sits on the board, was not recommended for reappointment. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Lee said he wanted to keep his seat. Since the meeting last week he has received calls from a member of the police union and a retired superintendent, he said. Both, Mr. Lee said, asked him to consider staying on the board.
The president of the Toronto Police Association said neither he nor any member of his board has spoken to Mr. Lee or the mayor's office about Mr. Del Grande's appointment. "We have not taken any position, publicly or otherwise, about any appointments to the board ... We'll work with anybody," Mike McCormack said.
Mr. Del Grande, an accountant, said he is a professional and understands that the budget is only one component of police board business. He insists he is not a one-issue nominee.
The mayor, he said, called him in for a meeting Wednesday, and indicated he is "110 per cent" behind Mr. Del Grande's appointment.
"He knows I'm outspoken. He knows I say things that need to be said that other people don't want to say. He knows I work hard," Mr. Del Grande said. "They are looking for good stewardship and I provide that wherever I go."
Mr. Del Grande said he is upset at any suggestion that police might try to influence appointments to the board. "Police do not have the luxury of picking and choosing who they want on their board," he said.
Councillor Doug Ford, a member of the striking committee, said his instructions from his brother were to satisfy the wishes of as many councillors as possible at last Friday's meeting. The committee recommended a slew of seat swaps for council's mid-term shuffle, including Mr. Del Grande's appointment.
"Rob's exact words – you can put this public – [were] 'I want to make sure everyone is happy, the left side and the right side,'" Councillor Ford said.
As for the opposition to Mr. Del Grande's appointment, "There is always push-back on all the appointments," Councillor Ford said.
Asked specifically if some of the push-back emanated from police, he responded: "I don't know."
With files from Kelly Grant