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City Hall Clampdown
01/03/2003
It was a routine access-to-information request that led to the revelation that one of Mel Lastman's long-time associates ensured the success of the local boys' Union Station bid by giving unusually low scores to the experienced American contender. Thankfully, the City of Toronto had an independent official -- Rita Reynolds, Director of the city's corporate access and privacy office -- to ensure that legal access to information was enforced. Upset at the number and seriousness of scandals revealed, the City Hall establishment is now taking the natural move... they are attempting to silence Director Reynolds and help the administration to keep its corruption in the dark. From today's Toronto Star:
The director of Toronto's corporate access and privacy office, and the official who rules on all public releases of city records, says she is being pressured by senior staff to be a "team player" and keep potentially embarrassing information hidden from public view. "I feel like I'm being intimidated and punished for doing my job with integrity," says Reynolds, who has publicly disclosed documents containing a series of high-profile revelations about city business over the past year. "My feeling is that this is a punishment for disclosing information that was embarrassing to senior staff." ...Over the past year, Reynolds' office has issued documents, in response to formal requests from the public, containing a number of headline-grabbing revelations, including:
  • Documents released last year revealing a host of accounting irregularities around computer consulting contracts, including missing purchase orders for expenditures totalling $9.6 million.
  • The city's purchase of $35 million in computer systems that failed to protect the personal information of Torontonians.
  • Records released in January showing a city lawyer discarded key documents relating to Toronto's selection of a local consortium to renovate and operate Union Station.
Reynolds says those disclosures, which may have embarrassed senior officials, have triggered a backlash against her. Last week, the Union Station case was both figuratively and literally taken out of her hands when she realized her file on the matter had mysteriously disappeared from her office -- the first time a file has gone missing, she says. "There were notes of conversations, e-mails, reports," Reynolds says, adding that it could not have been misplaced. "I have no theory on what happened." Meanwhile, a city draft report on "organizational realignment" within the city clerk's office, obtained by the Star, recommends a review of the corporate access and privacy office that would include developing "alternative models" for access to information. Reynolds says an attack on her independence is being spearheaded by senior staff, including [City Commissioner of Corporate Services, and Union Station selection chair, Joan] Anderton, [Chief Administrative Officer Shirley] Hoy and city clerk Ulli Watkiss. ..."The staff present all agreed that the fact of the destruction of the (Union Station) records should not have been disclosed and that they would not have issued such a letter, that it was unprofessional to have done so. Shirley Hoy told me she would not tolerate me not being a team player.... And I told her that the act requires that the truth be told."
So, a couple weeks ago some City Hall councillors tried to shut down the MFP inquiry because it "costs too much" -- "information that isn't worth 15 cents," in the words of councillor Doug Holyday. Now City Hall staff wants to handcuff our ability to learn about other scandals going on. There's an election coming, and we can soon have these people collecting EI. In the meantime, write to your city councillor. [Update, March 4 -- Today, John Barber has written a column about this too.]
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