Ombudsman Fiona Crean releases her annual report at City Hall, Thursday February 14.
Everything's peachy between city Ombudsman Fiona Crean and Mayor Rob Ford.
So says the Ombudsman herself, despite a controversy last fall that saw the mayor call for her job to be eliminated.
At a press conference Tuesday to mark the release her office's annual report, Crean told reporters there is no rift between herself and the mayor.
"I have a fine relationship with his office," she said.
But the introduction to the annual report acknowledges politicians' and bureaucrats' growing antagonism towards her office, which is responsible for fielding residents complaints about city government.
"[T]he past year saw increasing resistance to the presence of our office from some councillors and public servants," the report notes. "At times there is confusion about the role of the Ombudsman... The confusion becomes apparent when politicians challenge the independence of the Ombudsman who was established to provide an independent review of complaints."
Ford and many of his council allies questioned Crean's impartiality last October following the release of a report that found the mayor's office interfered with the civic appointments process. The mayor's brother, Councillor Doug Ford, claimed the report was politically motivated, and at one point the mayor suggested the Ombudsman's office should be abolished because it was "a waste of taxpayers' money."
Crean said Tuesday that criticism from council members comes with the job's territory, and she's moved on from last October's controversy.
"I have put the fall behind me, in the sense that I saw that as part of the learning curve. Business as usual for us," she said.
According to the annual report, the Ombudsman fielded 1,430 complaints from residents in 2012. The most common involved poor communication on the part of city staff, inadequate service, unpredictable bylaw enforcement, unfair rulings, and unreasonable delays.
Of all city divisions, municipal licensing and standards - which is responsible for services like issuing business licences and setting property standards - received the highest number of complaints. Revenue services, which collects taxes, and the Toronto Community Housing Corporation accounted for the second and third most complaints, respectively.
Aside from dealing with individual complaints, the Ombudsman also completed seven major investigations last year that were intended to address systemic problems in government. They included the contentious civic appointments report, a probe that found the TTC had not adequately consulted the public about plans to construct second exits at Greenwood and Donlands stations, and a report on unfair parking ticket practices.
Crean said she's beginning to see the results of her office's influence, and despite "pockets of resistance" the public service as a whole is responding to her recommendations.
The Ombudsman's office opened in 2009. Crean, who is the first person to hold the post, has consistently complained that a lack of funding has hampered her efforts to carry out its mandate.
On Tuesday she said those problems persist, despite her office sharing Mayor Ford's stated goals of improving customer service and ensuring government transparency. Her total budget was $1.4 million in 2012, but it was increased slightly for 2013 to allow her to hire an extra investigator.
"That there was insufficient monies at the time we started, there's no question of that," she said. "I'm delighted that council saw fit to add another investigator to my complement. Are we sufficient for the task? Absolutely not. But we're getting there."