When Justice Denise Bellamy shut down the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry on July 10 so all the lawyers raking in the big bucks over at the old East York Civic Centre could enjoy a two-week summer vacation, she said something about the end of her judicial probe coming into sight. Clearly, Bellamy has excellent vision. Because, as was also noted, it will likely be spring before she hands in her report on what caused the city's $43-million info technology contract with MFP Financial Services to end up costing more than $100 million.
But as far away as that may seem to some, the timing for release of the learned judge's findings could actually work in the city's favour. Next spring just happens to be when the municipal corporation's contentious agreement with the controversial Mississauga leasing firm finally expires and all of that expensive computer equipment at the heart of Bellamy's inquiry will be deemed and returned to the supplier. What sweet irony.
Already, finance department staffers are preparing budgets in anticipation of replacing all the hardware the city has been leasing from MFP since May 1999. When the ad hoc committee of councillors recently set up to create a five-year fiscal plan held its second meeting this week, it was provided with conservative estimates of what it's going to cost to keep the civic administration cyber-connected.
Best-case scenario: $20 million a year. Or $100 million over five years - pretty much the same amount the city ended up paying MFP before council convened an $8-million-plus inquiry to find out why.
"It won't be less, but it could be more," Joseph Pennachetti, the city's treasurer and chief financial officer said of the $20 million being set aside annually for new information technology in the proposed five-year financial plan.
The question now is, does the city of Toronto continue leasing or does it go out and buy all the new computer equipment it needs? "I think it's for council to decide whether it wants to lease or if it wants to purchase this time around," says budget chief David Shiner. He maintained that leasing looked like the best option four years ago because it allowed the city to spread its costs over five years instead of having to come up with $100 million all at once.
But that decision, made on the advice of Mayor Mel Lastman's favourite former treasurer, Wanda Liczyk, has left council and the entire civic administration fending off accusations of incompetence and corruption.
"We're probably not going to lease this time," Pennachetti hinted. And Shiner came up with as good a reason as any for why not. "Wouldn't it be interesting if MFP came along and turned out to be the lowest bidder again?" he mused with a laugh. Interesting, yes, but not very likely once Justice Bellamy delivers her assessment of what went on last time.
If any further proof was needed that the bureaucracy is calling the shots at City Hall, councillors provided it this week when they endorsed a staff recommendation that reduced the number of community councils from six to four, with boundary lines of the administration's choosing. As councillor Anne Johnston argued in a futile attempt to get her colleagues to make some sensible changes: "Staff have drawn the boundaries to suit themselves." Which is to say that the new community council jurisdictions closely approximate the administration's four service-delivery areas, which often fail to recognize traditional neighbourhood demarcations.
For example, if Johnston gets re-elected in Ward 16 (Eglinton-Lawrence), she'll have to attend community council meetings up at the North York Civic Centre even though 60 per cent of her constituency is located in what was once the old city of Toronto. And Johnston's not the only one. Several councillors representing inner-city wards east of the Humber River will be required to meet at the old Etobicoke city hall if they want their community concerns addressed.
"It makes no sense," Johnston fumed. She said the changes take the community out of community councils just so the bureaucrats can have an easier time tending to their turf. That's not what was intended when community councils were established after amalgamation in a bid to mollify the forced provincial merger's opponents. The idea was to preserve some sense of community identity. But Johnston's complaints weren't heeded, which may explain why she went after councillor Howard Moscoe when he ridiculed her concerns and attempted to have debate cut short. "What a jerk you are, Councillor Moscoe," she spat. "What a jerk!"
Moscoe took no offence. "I don't mind being called a jerk if that's the price of having Councillor Johnston on the North York community council," he said. Debate should be lively once the two of them are together in even closer quarters.
Mind you, there's no guarantee the community council in question will be named after North York. For the time being, it will be known as north community council. The west community council area will include wards from the old city of York plus the two wards that make up Parkdale-High Park. The south community council will service what's left of the old city of Toronto plus the former borough of East York. And Scarborough will stay Scarborough but be named the east community council.