just when mayor mel thought work couldn't get any worse, his trusty sidekick is leaving him.
For years, chief financial officer and treasurer Wanda Liczyk delivered for Curly.
Indeed, a couple of years back, when city councillor Michael Walker asked the city's second-highest-ranking city bureaucrat at a council meeting who she worked for, Liczyk replied, "The mayor."
The self-confident, broad-shouldered number-cruncher hitched her star to Mel early in her public career as North York treasurer, endearing herself by delivering successive tax freezes. She did the little things for Curly, too, like banking public money for a new Caddy every few years.
When Liczyk moved down Yonge with Curly and the rest of the Beecroft Hillbillies, she did some creative financing to help keep the mayor's ill-fated tax freeze promise.
Those were the good times.
When the Harris Tories put the screws to Toronto this year, she must have figured the party was over. She stuck around long enough to break the bleak financial news to councillors and slap on a band-aid.
Liczyk walked out on Mel to take a job as chief financial officer at Toronto Hydro -- a sound money-spinner for the city -- for an undisclosed salary.
But while our troubled mayor will certainly miss his trusted financial lieutenant, other councillors aren't exactly crying in their beer over her departure. Unfairly or not, Liczyk probably won't be remembered first as the ambitious treasurer who had the daunting task of amalgamating seven municipal finance departments into one.
For one thing, she's leaving under a cloud.
Along with the city's financial woes, Liczyk is named, with other senior city officials including Mel, in a multi-million-dollar civil lawsuit alleging fraud and abuse of power over the former city of North York's tax arrears sale of Veronica Elliott's home.
Councillor Anne Johnston has been pressing for a public inquiry into the sale. And the city is probably forking over loads of public dough to the outside law firm that's defending the city's position.
That matter aside, Liczyk's critics on council have viewed her as aloof, a public accountant who worked for Mel and kept the city's financial books close to her chest.
"You have to pry (the numbers) out of her, and then you have to know when she's not providing you with information," says councillor Walker. "She's counting on the ignorance of a lay person called a councillor, who isn't an accountant, to not be able to ask the right questions."
A few years back NOW had some questions for Liczyk around U.S. consultant Michael Saunders, whom she had hired to install a new tax-billing system in North York and later Toronto. Despite the fact that Saunders had billed millions of dollars for his services, the contract was not put out to tender or scrutinized by council.
Liczyk never did answer our questions.
More recently, city auditor Jeffrey Griffiths raised a few concerns of his own. He released a report to the city's audit committee detailing numerous recommendations from his office -- regarding the oversight of city services and public accounts -- that had been approved by council but had yet to be implemented.
The responsibility for implementing nearly all of the outstanding recommendations rested with Liczyk.
"There are six or seven pages of recommendations that haven't been addressed appropriately, which is why I brought it to the attention of council and the audit committee," says Griffiths.
Some of the recommendations that Liczyk's office failed to implement deal with the disclosure of city reserve fund information. Griffiths had recommended that Liczyk "provide council with reserve fund continuity schedules on a semi-annual basis, itemizing contributions to and withdrawals from each reserve and reserve fund."
That hasn't happened. Instead, councillors have received one report a year, and the reports haven't been itemized.
"We've received a report that just gives us beginning-of-the-year and year-end balances," says councillor Bas Balkissoon. "That's not what the policy states. The policy states we should get itemized reports."
City reserve funds are supposed to be kept aside for a rainy day. But they're often used as creative financing for the mayor and council's pet projects. Increasingly, council has had to dip into these reserves just to maintain city services.
But Balkissoon, a former budget committee member, says most councillors have very little understanding of the ins and outs of these reserves and how they're supposed to be used.
In the recent budget debate, for example, North York councillor Paul Sutherland wanted some grant money to address basement flooding in his ward. Liczyk recommended taking the money out of the water rates fund, at which point Balkissoon jumped up to point out that she couldn't do that without a bylaw amending the use of the fund.
"The reason for the itemization of the reserve accounts is to make sure the policies are being followed," says Balkissoon. "We haven't seen the accounts, so we are not sure that policy is being followed."
In light of the fact that there hasn't been full disclosure from the finance department, Balkissoon admits that council has had to make budget decisions, including cuts, without seeing the complete financial picture.
"It starts with the finances," he says. "If they are working perfectly, then I can go back to a community centre manager and say, "You're wasting money,' or I can go back to a transportation guy who's paving the road and say, "Hey, you're wasting money. I want you to do better.' I can't do that now."