did Paula Leggieri lose her job in the city's contract management office because she blew the whistle on her boss to the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry?"That's certainly the way it reads on the surface," says councillor Michael Walker. "It smells of cover-up."
Walker has been following Justice Denise Bellamy's efforts to find out how the city's $43-million information technology contract with MFP Financial Services ended up costing more than $100 million. And, like many other observers, he was stunned when Leggieri testified recently that her 15-year civil service career started heading towards the ditch almost as soon as she returned to work from an interview with inquiry lawyers one afternoon last summer.
"I have no other reason why I don't have a job," the single mom told the judge. "I worked hard for the city."
The woman who once had responsibility for making sure that the terms and conditions of city leasing contracts were met related how she discovered that the municipal corporation was being double-charged sales tax on some leases, thus saving her employer more than $1.5 million.
"I had positive performance reviews," Leggieri said matter-of-factly.
But they seemed to count for nothing following a "debriefing" in which her manager apparently intended to ferret out details of what she'd said to Bellamy's legal team. Leggieri met with the team during their preparations for the inquiry, which finally got under way last December 2.
Bellamy, in her address to the opening-day crowd, had tried to guard against the type of fallout Leggieri would describe to her four months later. "Any witness who comes forward is assured by our rules, and the law, that there will be no adverse employment consequences," the justice declared. "Any witness who comes forward will be assured that the evidence they will give will be used only for this inquiry and for no other purpose."
Problem is, by the time Bellamy made her "no adverse employment consequences" pledge, Leggieri had already been out of work for more than a week. The inquiry had the former technology leasing, administration, co-ordination and approvals supervisor's sworn take on what she considered an inappropriate relationship between her boss, Kathryn Bulko, and suddenly infamous MFP salesman Dash Domi.
But Leggieri was already using accumulated vacation time and sick leave to pay the bills while she tried to figure out how the wheels came off her "excellent" career. And it didn't take her too long to conclude that her recollections for Bellamy's counsel of how Bulko was "buddy-buddy" with Domi and referred to him as her "boyfriend" must have had something to do with it. "There was a friendship," Leggieri said in her recent testimony before the inquiry. "You would have to ask them about anything more than that. I saw a very close relationship." She claimed Domi called often and was a frequent visitor to Bulko's office at Metro Hall, and the pair "danced together once, very close," at a city social event.
Leggieri brought an intriguing new dimension to the MFP Inquiry. The judicial probe has already heard plenty about how the brother of Toronto Maple Leaf tough guy Tie Domi charged more than $100,000 to the company expense account for wining and dining former city treasurer Wanda Liczyk and other city officials. But Leggieri's testimony was the first to describe the impact Domi's sales techniques seem to have had on the ability of senior city staff to conduct business.
She detailed how Domi regularly violated city policy when he sought approval for new leases from Liczyk rather than dealing directly with Bulko's office. "We were being bypassed," Leggieri testified. When she learned that new equipment had been added to the MFP leases, with terms extended from three to five years at interest rates almost triple those in the agreement council approved in 1999, Leggieri brought the matter to the attention of her superior. But, she claimed, Bulko's close relationship with Domi meant nothing was ever done about it.
Jeffrey Kramer, the lawyer representing Bulko at the inquiry, was quick to completely refute Leggieri's testimony. "Kathryn Bulko will take her place in the witness box when called and testify under oath that the allegations made against her are false," Kramer told reporters.
Walker and other concerned councillors don't want to wait until that unspecified date to find out why Paula Leggieri is using employment insurance benefits to support herself and her young son. The city has hired an outside law firm to investigate Leggieri's statements to the inquiry. But councillors' attempts to find out more aren't meeting with much success.
"I'm concerned here with the way senior management is operating," says Walker. "It's operating as if it's under siege, as if it's got something to hide."
He wrote a letter to Shirley Hoy, the city's chief administrative officer, two weeks ago asking for answers to question concerning Leggieri's employment status. But as of yesterday the councillor hadn't received a response.
Walker is adamant that if management can't show cause for Leggieri's assignment to the ranks of the unemployed "she should be brought back and given all her back pay."
Councillor David Miller, candidate for mayor and head of the city's personnel committee, said he was "shocked and saddened" by Leggieri's testimony. "If she was fired for reasons other than her cooperation with the Bellamy inquiry it should be simple for the city to say "her employment is over' and explain her status,' he says. But like Walker, Miller has received no response from Hoy to his written request for a briefing on the Leggieri file.
Councillor Brian Ashton, council's IT committee chair, says he has been advised by senior staff that there is a bureaucratic explanation for Leggieri's job status. But he wouldn't go much further than that. "At this stage the jury's still out on who's done what, what's correct and what's not," Ashton maintains, "but from my perspective, her employment should not be threatened. Personally, as a member of council, I will err on the side of a whistle-blower and not on the side of punishing employees.' Too bad Paula Leggieri can't take that to the bank.