Anyone who wants to debunk all hose specious arguments about the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry being a complete waste of taxpayers' money need look no further than former City Hall lobbyist Jeff Lyons for proof that the nearly two-year-old judicial probe has been well worth the nearly $15 million spent on it.
At the conclusion of his second round of testimony before Justice Denise Bellamy and the inquiry's voracious lawyers last week, Lyons made it known that he doesn't even bother going to City Hall in search of business any more.
"It's being run by a political group I don't support," he lamented.
This admission from the once renowned deal maker ("I put money and people together"), whose ties to former mayor Mel Lastman, fading municipal power broker Paul Godfrey and disgraced former budget chief Tom Jakobek have been well documented, should more than satisfy the financial nitpickers.
Changing a political culture tainted by charges of corruption doesn't come cheap. But by the time Bellamy's lead counsel had called his last witness this past Wednesday in a bid to explain how the city's 1999 computer leasing contract with MFP ballooned from $43 million to more than $100 million, the culture at City Hall had indeed undergone a dramatic change. Consider the $15 million money well spent.
Not surprisingly, Lyons was quick to claim exactly the opposite. "This inquiry has hurt everybody who does lobbying at the city of Toronto," he complained. He went on to argue that the probe has given Toronto "the most paranoid" government in Canada, and its administration is dysfunctional because bureaucrats are now afraid to have anything to do with people like him.
Of course, the man who once insisted councillors call him "Brother Jeff" didn't bother to mention the money he cost the inquiry when he took Bellamy and Co. to court in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent them from getting access to boxes of documents he'd claimed didn't exist the first time he took the stand.
It should be further noted that "Tommy Tune" Jakobek - the subject of more than a few of the memos contained in those disputed boxes - also took the inquiry to court in hopes (eventually dashed) of preventing its investigators from getting their hands on his family's financial records.
Those records ended up contradicting Jakobek's claim that his father-in-law had given him $21,000 to pay for a trip to Disney World within days of former MFP salesman Dash Domi making a $25,000 withdrawal from his bank account, calling the then powerful budget chief at his City Hall office and then heading into the City Hall parking lot for a brief pit stop on November 1, 1999.
Jakobek's 71-year-old mother was called to the witness stand in an attempt to lend credence to her son's testimony. Bellamy will be left to make some sense of it all when she delivers her report on the whole MFP soap opera sometime next year.
But not before she has delved into another aspect of the city's information technology imbroglio: the questionable hiring of outside consultants and the seemingly unnecessary purchase of much expensive computer software. This phase of the inquiry is expected to begin October 18, with 70 days of hearings scheduled.
In the meantime, life goes on at City Hall. As luck would have it, one of the items high on council's thick agenda this week was the $31-million purchase of new computers to replace the 15,400 units leased from MFP.
True to his word - and unlike five years ago - Jeff Lyons was nowhere to be seen in the council chamber as the meeting was called to order Tuesday morning. But neither was there any evidence of the dysfunctional paranoia he'd railed against a week earlier.
In fact, lobbyists from at least four different firms were on hand to monitor the goings on and to make their presence known to the elected decision-makers. Needless to say, not one of the hired "consultants" I talked to shared the views Lyons expressed about the atmosphere at City Hall.
"It's a new environment, for sure," said Bruce Davis of Urban Intelligence. "The spotlight of the inquiry has cleaned up a lot of the monkey business. There's a healthy caution now."
Davis said that caution has had its biggest effect on the hospitality side of the lobbying business - "the quote, unquote 'relationship building': the ticket stuff, the golf all that crap.
"I think it's good, personally," he added. "The dynamic has definitely changed, but if you have good ideas and public policy solutions, I think there's still a willingness on the part of the city to deal with consultants, intermediaries or whatever term you choose to use."
Incidentally, the last term Jeff Lyons used to describe himself was Ticketmaster. Enough said.