It looks like city ombudsman Fiona Crean is keeping her job, and that's probably a good thing.
For exactly how long she's sticking around isn't yet known. But council approved a confidential motion Thursday that seems to bode well for the municipal watchdog.
Because it's a personnel matter, the details of what council voted for weren't immediately made public. But it's being reported that her supporters on council won her a reprieve; they didn't have the super-majority of 30 votes needed to reappoint her for a second five-year term, so instead they punted the decision to the next term of council. Her current term was already extended by two years in 2012, and is set to expire in November 2015.
If the reports are true, the ombudsman's backers pulled off a coup. Crean has made herself unpopular with some council members, not least of all Mayor Rob Ford, and she will likely have a better chance of being reappointed under a new administration.
A debate over the future of a high-ranking bureaucrat isn't likely to get the kind of attention that say, a crack-smoking mayor does, but what happens to Crean is important, and here's why.
Of the four accountability officers tasked by the city to oversee city government, Crean is arguably the most important to residents. Her jurisdiction is the public service, the municipal institutions that citizens rely on and come into contact with every day, including agencies like the TTC and Toronto Community Housing. Her's is the "office of last resort," the place where residents go to seek some kind of remedy when the system breaks down.
During a noisy six-year tenure, Crean has authored 19 reports on issues as important as the unfair eviction of seniors from Toronto Community Housing, poor communication during the evacuation of the 200 Wellesley Street fire, and the heavy-handed appropriation of private homes to make way for TTC construction.
Each of these cases involved Toronto residents being subject to tremendous hardship as a result of the city's actions, and Crean's investigations led to recommendations for new policies designed to protect their rights.
They also ruffled a lot of feathers. Her 2012 report on the mayor's office's meddling in the civic appointments process embarrassed the Ford administration and its allies, and more recently her probe into improper hirings, firings and promotions at TCH led to the departure of the mayor's favoured housing chief Eugene Jones.
Although supposedly sharing Crean's goal of improving customer service, Ford has publicly clashed with her and even called for the ombudsman's office to be eliminated. Council has also denied her a request for more resources to do her job.
On Thursday, Crean's council supporters took opposition to her reappointment as a badge of honour.
"Fiona Crean has been a victim of her own success [and] a victim of her own courage," said Josh Matlow. "The very fact that she's controversial, the very fact that this [her re-appointment] is such a contentious issue, means she's done something right."
There is a reasonable debate to be had about how long any bureaucrat should serve before her office is imbued with some fresh blood, but the people responsible for keeping government accountable shouldn't be turfed at the first opportunity because they unearth politically inconvenient truths.
Perhaps the most relevant fact about whether opposition to Crean's appointment is political rather than substantive was raised by Councillor Mike Layton Thursday, and it's this: over the course of her term, council has adopted every one of her reports' recommendations. Every single one.
"You know what? That sounds like we think she's doing a pretty good job," Layton said.