At this time last week, it was a widely held opinion around City Hall that the $6.5 million judicial marathon officially known as the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry was going to be history by Valentine's Day. Mayor David Miller had received a letter from Justice Denise Bellamy warning it will cost at least another $3 million if she and her band of lawyers proceed with the second phase of a probe into the past machinations of city information technology and finance departments. This time, the judge and her legal counsel are supposed to find out how some hired consultants amassed fortunes telling the city how to make best use of the $43-million computer system it leased from MFP Financial Services for more than $80 million back in 1999.
"I believe I have a responsibility to inform you and counsel that whether or not any misconduct - serious or otherwise - is brought out publicly in the second inquiry, it is not likely that the receipt of this evidence will materially enhance my recommendations to you and council," Bellamy told Miller. In other words, can the inquisition, Dave, and save yourself some much-needed cash. Yours very truly, Denise.
The fact that the mayor didn't reject the suggestion out of hand got a lot of people thinking, "Hey, if the guy who was instrumental in getting the inquiry called in the first place isn't making a lot of noise, maybe a quick wrap-up isn't such a bad idea."
After all, the political regime that opened City Hall's back door to the lobbyists and their wheeler-dealer clients was swept out of office by Miller. Everything is different now. The problem is gone. What the city needs now is money to help deal with a $344-million shortfall in the 2004 operating budget. And every little $3 million helps.
While long-time inquiry critics like councillors Doug Holyday and Denzil Minnan-Wong will make just such a case when council discusses Bellamy's communiqué at its meeting today (Thursday, January 29), don't expect their "good money after bad" argument to carry the debate. The mood has changed at 100 Queen West in the past seven days. And a missive the mayor received from another concerned party certainly helps explain the turnaround.
The City of Toronto Administrative, Professional, Supervisory Association (COTAPSA) represents non-unionized municipal employees. And on their behalf, the association's executive director sent Miller a letter making the case for the MFP Inquiry continuing to its proper conclusion.
"The inquiry to date has probed the internal workings of the city's organization and staff," Richard Majkot said. "Shutting the inquiry down early may limit or restrict a probe of the external forces that can be a major factor in these matters."
According to Majkot, "COTAPSA believes that in order to reinforce the integrity of the city of Toronto and build confidence and trust in its institutions, all of the information must come out." The additional cost of less than $1 per city resident is a small price to pay for this critical knowledge, he concluded.
Clearly, COTAPSA's entreaty (and its stated support for "open, honest, transparent municipal government) hit home with the new chief magistrate, who must have been tempted to accept the role of cost-cutting crusader when Bellamy's letter landed on his desk.
"I want to get to the truth, and that's what the people of Toronto want," Miller said emphatically after a power failure in the downtown core Tuesday morning, January 26, caused council's January meeting to be recessed and the inquiry debate to be postponed for 48 hours.
When council meets to discuss Bellamy's letter today, the mayor will argue that a final decision on the inquiry's second phase (aka the Toronto External Contracts Inquiry) should be put off until the judge has issued a report on her probe's initial stage. And with Bellamy previously indicating that she wouldn't have anything down on paper until parts one and two are both complete, Miller's die appears to be cast.
"As people know, there are some outstanding issues," he said. And indeed there are, as Bellamy's correspondence itself pointed out. For starters, there's the city's request that the judge recall four witnesses - MFP salesman Dash Domi, former budget chief Tom Jakobek, renowned lobbyist Jeff Lyons and MFP president Peter Wolfraim - for re-examination before phase one is called to a close. Obviously, someone believes these characters have some more explaining to do concerning their roles in the computer-leasing imbroglio, and what they have to say may be of considerable relevance to the second phase.
Secondly, there's the matter of 18 boxes of documents belonging to Lyons, who had contact with just about everybody involved in the leasing controversy and who once suggested the papers in question no longer existed. When the cartons showed up last fall in the offices of a law firm he was once associated with, Bellamy ordered them opened for examination by her lawyers. Lyons is in court this week trying to prevent that from happening, and that decision, which the lobbyist is expect to appeal if it doesn't go his way, is also expected today.
What's in those boxes could have considerable bearing on all parts of the inquiry - including the "governance" issues about which the commission is currently hearing testimony in hopes of making some helpful recommendations to City Hall.
And then there's the matter of a statement Bellamy made in her letter to Miller regarding the second phase of her inquiry.
"I preface the following remarks by assuring you that I am fully prepared to discharge my mandate under the second inquiry," the judge advised. "As well, without prejudicing evidence before it is tested in the hearing room, I can inform you and councillors that my investigations to date have uncovered conduct the propriety of which may be in question and would be appropriate to expose by way of judicial inquiry."
How could a mayor who made a broom the symbol of his successful election campaign possibly turn a blind eye to that paragraph without being accused of sweeping dirt under the rug to save $3 million? The answer is, he can't. And Miller won't. Expect the majority of council to be lined up behind him when council adjourns tonight.