My dance of denial with Michael Saunders, the man who won't testify
Unlike Wanda Liczyk, I never knew Michael Saunders personally. But I danced with him, once. Years ago. Over the phone. He was still ensconced in the amalgamated city’s finance offices in North York, a little-known U.S. computer consultant who ran the tax billing system.
A fish called Wanda
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Among other things, I tried to ask him the very questions the judicial inquiry will probably never be able to. I queried him on his relationship with then city treasurer Wanda Liczyk – and we danced. He hung up on me at one point, so I called him back. “What about your relationship with the treasurer?”
He stiffened. “What are you implying?”
“I’m just asking a question,” I said.
“Well, I’m asking, what are you implying?” Saunders insisted.
“I’m asking you what your relationship is with the treasurer of Toronto,” I said.
“It’s none of your business, is it?”
“I think it is if you’re working for her,” I said.
Our awkward tango continued for a few more minutes. “I’m just asking if you have a personal relationship,” I pressed. “Do you see her outside of work?”
“I told you I have a professional relationship with the treasurer,” he said. “Do you see your editor outside of work?”
“Occasionally, go for a drink maybe,” I said.
“Well, is that a personal relationship or professional relationship?” he asked.
“I’m asking you,” I said, backing up on my heels.
“I’m asking you what your definition is,” he insisted.
“I’m asking you,” I lamely repeated.
The music had clearly stopped. Back in the fall of 1999, at a time when Lastman and Liczyk still waltzed around Nathan Phillips Square and the notion of probing computer contracts wasn’t even a twinkle in city auditor Jeffrey Griffiths’s eye, I wrote a story about two computer systems in the city’s finance department – hardly sexy, I know, but as it turned out, it had legs.
So the story goes, Liczyk chose one computer program over the other – the one that was run by her good friend Saunders, the American consultant. The thing was, despite the fact that Saunders had consulted for Liczyk’s North York finance department for years, hardly anyone at Toronto City Hall had ever heard of him, not even Liczyk’s boss, then chief administrative officer Michael Garrett.
Turned out, Saunders’s contract had never been put out to tender. And what a contract it was. As I reported then, Saunders billed Toronto and North York millions for his services.
But I’ll admit, at the time I didn’t have enough information to accurately portray Liczyk’s and Saunders’s relationship over the years. I simply wrote that they had “a close working relationship,” which wasn’t entirely true.
Liczyk now says in an affidavit that she had a “personal relationship” with Saunders from the spring of 1989 to the summer of 1991 and that they remained “good friends.” The former treasurer also concedes that “I should have taken more steps to alleviate any potential perceptions of conflict.”
Liczyk never did talk to me for my story. She asked me to fax her my questions, which I did, but never answered. And yet five years later, in paragraph 152 of her affidavit, she reveals that just days after my story appeared in NOW, she “drafted a memorandum with supporting documents and sent it to the city auditor for his review and information,” adding that “I felt it was important for me to take the initiative and attempt to answer the questions that arose from the NOW Magazine article.”
It seems doubtful that Saunders will be participating in the Toronto Computer Leasing/External Contracts Inquiry. But Liczyk will have to boogie – for inquiry lawyers, for the media and, no doubt, for herself. And I’ll be watching from the sidelines, just a little put out, perhaps, that the once-strutting Saunders didn’t show up to support his “professional” friend, and that I never did get a proper dance with Liczyk.