jeffrey griffiths does not have the look of a man who would take pleasure in the misfortune of others. But if anyone can be excused for letting a wee smile creep across his face upon hearing of Mayor Mel Lastman's latest political tribulations, it's the city auditor.Griffiths has good reason to be amused. Not long ago, the bespectacled accountant with the dark suits seemed to be on his way out at City Hall. Indeed, soon after Lastman paid former chief administrative officer Mike Garrett $500,0000 to walk away from his job last summer, Griffiths moved to the top of the mayoral list of bureaucrats to be eliminated.
Lastman had his reasons for wanting the auditor gone. Most of them had to do with the fact that Griffiths wouldn't leave well enough alone and started snooping around the accounts of outside consultants the city had hired in recent years.
Lo and behold, it turned out something in the neighbourhood of $300 million had been frittered away on private sector "experts." And some of them received fat cheques for expenses without submitting receipts to prove the money had ever been spent.
It was not a pretty picture, and Griffiths was privately taken to task for presenting his report to council's administration committee without first submitting it for the perusal of then acting CAO Shirley Hoy.
She took offence and called into question some of the auditor's findings. The mayor's office, meanwhile, started a whisper campaign that suggested Griffiths was out of his depth and badly misguided.
But as subsequent events would prove, the auditor knew full well what his job was, and his conclusions were dead on the mark. Worse, for the Lastmanites, the consulting fiasco begat the MFP computer leasing scandal.
And that further soiled the mayor's badly tainted reputation, since the whole mess had been cooked up under the watchful eye of his protégé, former city treasurer Wanda Liczyk.
With a nudge and a wink, she was given a free hand to do pretty much as she pleased in the finance department until someone finally got wise and Liczyk headed off to work her magic in the executive suite at Toronto Hydro.
The MFP affair now seems to be headed for a judicial inquiry. And who knows where that may lead? There are demands from a growing number of councillors that the probe go further than just computer leases. The inquiry should delve into contracts other well-connected private-sector firms signed with the municipal corporation, they insist.
Which brings us back to the city auditor. Lastman figured out some time ago (or paid someone to figure it out for him) that Griffiths was up to no good and started plotting his demise. Unfortunately for the mayor, he couldn't just fire the guy. People would complain even louder than they had when Lastman bullied councillors into approving Garrett's sacking. That was soon after the mayor had directed them to ratify a new three-year contract he'd negotiated with the CAO for a substantial raise in pay.
This time the mayor would have to be devious. And it wasn't long before a brilliant plan was hatched in the paranoid atmosphere of his office.
As luck would have it, one of the very few pledges Lastman made during his lacklustre mayoralty campaign in 2000 concerned the appointment of an auditor general to independently monitor city spending. Suddenly, it was moved off the back burner to the front of the political cooktop.
A small task force headed by a loyal council ally (Denzil Minnan-Wong) would solicit a report calling for an AG. Then council would be stampeded into endorsing the initiative so the backroom wheeling and dealing could begin to find the "right" person for the job. Griffiths would be encouraged to apply for the post, of course. But no way in hell would he ever get it.
And once the new AG was installed, the auditor's position would be downgraded, and Griffiths would abruptly become a footnote in accounting history.
Well, the task force presented a 41-page report to Lastman last week and provided him with the preordained recommendation he was looking for. Problem is, some folks have caught on to the way things are being manipulated behind the scenes at City Hall, and they're working to thwart the mayor's grand design.
"Talk about shooting the messenger," says Doug Holyday, the councillor for Ward 3 (Etobicoke Centre) and vice-chairman of council's audit committee. "Instead of rewarding this guy and thanking him for what he's done, they're scheming to get rid of him. There's always some ulterior motive around here."
Holyday, former mayor of the old city of Etobicoke, remembers Griffiths from his time as deputy auditor with the now defunct Metro Toronto government. He was once called upon to get to the bottom of some scandalous credit card abuses in Etobicoke's senior administration, and the municipality's last chief magistrate was greatly impressed with the way Griffiths handled himself.
"If he was just looking out for his own ass, we wouldn't know the things we now know," Holyday says of the auditor's recent findings in the face of frenzied efforts to squelch them.
David Miller, councillor for Ward 13 (Parkdale-High Park), agrees.
"What's being attempted here is really an outrage," says the chairman of council's personnel subcommittee. "In the guise of trying to protect the city, they're deliberately going after the one person who has been protecting it."
Fortunately for Griffiths, other councillors are also lining up to support him.
"In my view, he's done an excellent job," says Lorenzo Berardinetti, councillor for Ward 37 (Scarborough Centre) and chairman of council's administration committee.
"He's been given all kinds of difficult tasks to perform and he's done them extremely well. If we're going to move in the direction of having an auditor general, I think Jeff would be the best person for the position."
Considering the beating His Washup is taking in the public opinion polls -- thanks to the bizarre mishandling of the MFP file and a very public dalliance with some visiting Hell's Angels -- it would be folly for council to back the mayor's vendetta against a civil servant who had the audacity to do what taxpayers expected of him.
Never mind a smile. Jeffrey Griffiths would be forgiven a mile-wide grin.