you've really got to wonder why anyone in their right mind would want to be a member of the Toronto police services board right now. The right-minded folks trying to ensure that the public gets value for the nearly $700 million the cops want to spend this year seem to find themselves on the messy end of smear campaigns the minute they mention the words "financial accountability" within Chief Julian Fantino's agents' hearing. First it was newly appointed police board chair Alan Heisey and leaked internal police reports about his conversation with a sex crimes detective. A report the board expects today (Thursday, March 25) from retired judge Sydney Robins might provide a reasonable explanation of how a chat at a law enforcement conference turned into something of a scandal.
But as far as vice-chair Pam McConnell is concerned, everything can be summed up in a single word: intimidation. The councillor for Toronto Centre-Rosedale speaks with some authority. She, too, has recently been on the receiving end of "the treatment."
It seems a few senior officers over at police headquarters took exception to remarks McConnell made during an interview with NOW Magazine back in January. How dare she suggest that the civilian police board should "be both perceived to be and to be independent of the department it's responsible for.'
And when she also expressed concerns about the chief's "liaison" officer having his desk in the board's office... well, it was more than the top cops could handle. They wanted McConnell to be investigated by the same Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services that ruled against former board chair Norm Gardner for taking free bullets from the cops to fire off in a gun he kept forgetting to pay for.
The board tossed out the complaint against McConnell last month. She's still ticked that someone wasted valuable time and money on it, especially considering that another police board colleague - Councillor John Filion - has since been made the latest target.
Filion's misstep? The Willowdale councillor has questions about the 17 press aides Fantino pays for out of a $1.6-million public relations budget. That's just a few bucks shy of what Mayor David Miller spends running his entire office. Like, maybe someone should take a knife to the chief's $5.6-million office stipend to help limit to $37 million the increase in the department's budget. Fantino insists he has to have a $48-million hike (to $683 million) to avoid cop layoffs and endangering the public. What about it, chief?
Well, three days before Filion could make his case to the board at a special meeting Monday, March 22, a story turned up in the Toronto Sun. Based on court documents from divorce proceedings between Filion and his wife, the article said the councillor claimed to have 10 weeks of holiday time every year to spend with his kids. Also included was a statement in which Filion acknowledged that he sometimes left council meetings early "to his political detriment, based on his deliberate choice that his children came first." Next up was Filion's City Hall voting record from last year. At 56 per cent, he was "tied for worst among remaining councillors," the tabloid tale advised.
Filion says he was tipped off that someone was going through his divorce papers and "half expected" the contents would be public knowledge before Monday's meeting.
"We had a bit of a heads-up that this was going to happen," adds McConnell, who is adamant that the story was planted in the press as "a smear" and a bid to damage Filion's credibility before he could go after the chief's PR kitty. "These things are all related. None of us are going to be intimidated by this kind of stuff. We've got a job to do and we're going to keep doing it."
But that proved difficult this week, thanks to the bizarre antics of Councillor Case Ootes. Along with his three police board colleagues, he spent much of Monday at a public hearing, listening as a stream of cops joined their union president to warn of mayhem should the department get anything less than their asked-for budget.
But when the time came for the board to prepare some spending recommendations, the Toronto-Danforth pol headed for the exit. Ootes's departure robbed the board of quorum. When Heisey called for the meeting to continue Tuesday morning, Ootes refused to attend. "I have a full calendar today," snorted the conservative councillor, who received the controversial endorsement of the Toronto Police Association during the last election. Then he accused his board colleagues of "playing politics" and claimed Filion's attempts to wrest savings from Fantino's budget were "the manifestation of an anti-police mentality.'
But according to councillor Kyle Rae, it's Ootes who has the problem. "He's abrogated his responsibilities as a councillor appointed to the board. If he really doesn't want to be there, we should ask him to remove himself, or council should look at removing him."