Talk about a conspiracy to evade public scrutiny. Mere weeks before the election of David Miller as mayor and just as the Tories were being turfed from office, the police services board made a secret, underhanded bid to ensconce Julian Fantino for another term. Fantino's current contract doesn't run out until March 2005, but the former board was intent, it seems, on saddling the public with the current chief, a hyper-political, right-wing, racial-profiling- denying throwback to an era before community policing, and an obvious misfit in the new era.
Alas, for whatever reason (some suggest Fantino was waiting for John Tory, whom he cosied up to during the election, to sweeten his contract), Fantino declined the offer to renew.
But it's a shocking reminder that the foes of true civilian oversight are always thinking strategically - as they are now in the current bid to humiliate reform-minded Al Heisey out of the board chair.
According to a well-placed source, the offer to Fantino was made at either the September or October meeting. The discussions are shrouded in secrecy, demonstrating a disturbing disregard for community input. Though the police service gobbles up $630 million yearly and the chief is arguably the most powerful department head in the entire city infrastructure, members of the police services board contacted by NOW would not talk about the past negotiations, arguing that they cannot discuss personnel matters.
Calls to police board administrator Deirdre Williams were referred to police director of personnel Bill Gibson, whose secretary called to refer them back to Williams. Fantino spokesperson Mark Pugash did not respond to repeated phone messages.
Thanks to the Public Sector Salaries Disclosure Act passed by the Mike Harris government, we do know that Fantino pulled in $177,715.92 in 2002, one of 84 Toronto cops who topped the $100,000 mark. (Fantino has said he wants the province to stop publishing the salaries of police, because it provokes unfair criticism of officers.)
News of the contract renewal offer caught police observers by surprise. Howard Morton, former head of the special investigations unit, who often locked horns with Fantino, says that while it may be legal to renew a contract such as the chief's in advance of the expiry date, it's an "affront to democracy" to extend the term of such a powerful public figure without any discussion, or even advance warning.
Now the question is whether the new board will chart a more inclusive process as Fantino's contract comes to a close. The current campaign by unknown forces against Heisey, who is accused of interfering in a police child porn investigation, is a scary sign of how high the stakes are. It was Fantino who in 2002 turned over the memo alleging the interference to then-chair Norm Gardner, who finds himself the subject of a probe on another matter.
And there are also worries that the new mayor will not be deeply involved enough in the nitty-gritty of choosing a replacement. He opted to spend the first half of his three-year term on the TTC before joining the police services board in the final 18 months, starting in July 2005, long after the chief issue will presumably be resolved. In the meantime, Councillor Pam McConnell is his designate on the board. (She's away this week and could not be reached for comment.)
Says Councillor Kyle Rae, "I think the people expect the mayor to take a leadership role in the appointment of the chief."
But mayor Miller tells NOW that because it's a personnel matter, he can't discuss whether the chief's contract should be renewed. He does say, "The chief's contract is an important one for the city, and I think it's important for the mayor to have some involvement in it. I'm not on the board, but I have confidence in the council representatives on the board and I will be kept well-briefed on the issue."
Of course, the new board could decide to offer Fantino its own renewal contract, though many at City Hall are hoping this won't turn out to be the case. For such a politically in-tune performer, Fantino is a bit tone-deaf when it comes to hearing the way he's perceived by those around him.
One City Hall insider says the high-maintenance Fantino has become tiring. "Each week there's another crisis from him. It's bicyclists one week, gridlock the next. Every week he's got another target to go after." Expect more police-induced crime panics as we head into budget season and the police try to extract another $50 million from a cash-strapped city.
Even former fans have been turned off. Take Rae, for example. The councillor for the gay ghetto used to have a political thing going with Fantino, with whom he would tour Church Street as if to prove that the police chief was no homophobe.
But while Fantino got lots of fawning press out of those strolls, Rae ended up with nothing. The law-and-order chief, whom Rae counted on to deal with what he calls his ward's "public order" problems, such as drunkenness and drug dealing, has sold him out. In fact, the police foot patrols that Rae fought for for years are being decimated via the reassignment of personnel. "I feel like (Fantino) has dismantled community policing," Rae says.
Meanwhile, the police services board is under increasing pressure to remind Fantino he's the chief constable, not the chief magistrate. Top cops are expected to remain above the political fray, but this one gets down and rolls around in it.
Recently, Morton appeared with other lawyers before the police services board to protest the chief's involvement in partisan politics, including appearances at Conservative fundraisers and Ernie Eves's provincial budget presentation at the Magna car parts plant last March. On election night, Fantino appeared on TV as a commentator. "We don't like his participating in the political process when, historically, the police are there to protect the political process," Morton says.