People can say what they want about Pamela Coburn. In fact, some folks have been doing exactly that for the past few days.
But the woman at the centre of the latest civic "sex scandal" has clearly learned a thing or two about the workings of the municipal bureaucracy in her 27 years at City Hall.
That's why no one should've been surprised when the executive director of municipal licensing and standards held a press conference at Nathan Phillips Square Monday, October 3, with two kids and lawyer in tow.
Coburn says she wanted to set the record straight about her "special relationship" with Joseph Carnevale, the former chair of the Toronto Catholic school board who in 10 short months rocketed from a temporary job in her department to a $100,000-a-year-plus post as her second-in-command.
"I came to care a lot for Joseph," single mother Coburn said of the married father of three. Like his boss, he's on a paid leave of absence until a probe by city manager Shirley Hoy determines whether their romantic relationship played any role in Carnevale's rapid rise.
While Coburn admitted that she and her lover had "described each other as soulmates" and "discussed the possibility of a future together," she insisted Carnevale's promotion came about before they developed their "special relationship." In other words, they've done nothing wrong and should be allowed to return to work toute suite.
But there's virtually no chance of that happening, and Coburn knows it. That's why she chose to go public about her affair with Carnevale before Hoy's report is even written. And it's also why lawyer Murray Klippenstein was on hand to distribute copies of a "Statement By Pamela Coburn With Attachments" to the media horde that had been tipped three days earlier.
Coburn had begun negotiating the terms of her separation from the bureaucracy, in public.
And you can be sure she'll be well compensated for agreeing to go away quietly rather than making a lot of noise about a wrongful dismissal suit against the city.
The attachments Klippenstein included with the transcript of Coburn's statement make it pretty clear which route he'll be taking in court should the city decide to give his client the heave-ho.
They include surveys and studies that, Coburn noted, show office romances to be "natural and unavoidable and, according to the experts, often good. Based on the statistics, I suspect some of you in this audience may have some first-hand experience," she said.
The crowd of journalists hung on her every word. But the remark was also directed at the administrators and decision makers in the building behind her.
It's no secret that city manager Hoy is in a personal relationship with former councillor Gordon Chong that began before he left politics. Or that councillor Peter Milczyn is engaged to a former political staffer who not too long ago found employment in Coburn's department. And what about the recent revelations that three members of deputy mayor Joe Pantalone's family are also on the MLS payroll?
All very innocent perhaps. But Coburn is obviously prepared to play hardball if her impending retirement doesn't go smoothly.
And why wouldn't she? Former treasurer Wanda Liczyk handed out untendered contracts worth millions of dollars to a technology consultant she'd shared a bed with and ended up getting a better-paying senior vice-president's job at Toronto Hydro just before the now infamous MFP scandal hit the headlines. When her conflict of interest was exposed during Justice Denise Bellamy's recently concluded inquiry, Liczyk was paid a sum in the range of $700,000 to quietly vacate her Carlton Street office.
There's also the case of Lana Viinamae, the former director of the city's Y2K project and the only municipal employee ever terminated as a result of the MFP affair. She launched a $950,000 wrongful dismissal suit claiming she was made the scapegoat for the scandal because her superiors (Liczyk and I.T. director Jim Andrew) had split the scene by the time the sorry details became known. To no one's surprise, the city settled with Viinamae out of court early this year. The sum was never disclosed, but word is it was considerable.
It was with all of this in mind that Coburn took the extraordinary step of going public before the city manager's investigation. For this she has been characterized in some media as a "home wrecker" who has all but destroyed the future happiness of the married "gentleman" who'd denied their relationship was anything more than a friendship. What a load of sexist bunk.
After all, it takes two to tango, and Carnevale should have considered the consequences before he started dancing.
But it's too late now. And it remains to be seen whether his 10-month tenure as a municipal employee will give him the same power to negotiate a severance package.
Coburn hinted at her strategy when she recalled the "one occasion I was specifically directed by my civil service superior to hire someone because of his connections. When I objected, I was strongly ordered to do so, and I followed orders."
She refused to give details when pressed by the media, and for good reason. "I will give details to any appropriate investigation if asked," she said.
It was the proverbial shot across the bow, Coburn's ace in the hole when it comes to negotiating the price of her departure from the civil service.
When you've spent 27 years at City Hall, you know where more than a few bodies are buried. And the folks calling the shots know you know.