Four things we learned from the city ombudsman’s scathing report on staffing practices at TCHC
City ombudsman Fiona Crean’s much-anticipated report on hiring practices at the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, released this morning, is perhaps not quite as damning as promised. Even so, it contains quite a bit of evidence of mismanagement at the corporation’s highest levels. Crean herself puts it best, on page 67: “It is an alarming tale of senior executives ignoring policy and running an organization as though it were their own personal fiefdom.”
The target of the majority of Crean’s criticism is Gene Jones, a Detroit import who started as TCHC’s CEO in mid-2012, in the chaotic aftermath of Rob Ford’s purge of the corporation’s leadership. Jones was supposed to put the troubled organization on better financial footing. At last check, he still enjoyed the mayor’s unqualified support (for what that’s worth, these days), but he’s going to have a lot to answer for once the rest of city council is done absorbing these findings. TCHC has already preemptively docked his bonus.
Many of the liberties Jones is accused of taking would be acceptable at a private company. With taxpayer dollars involved, though, there’s an expectation that things will be done in accordance with clear, consistent policy. Crean’s report makes it obvious that such attention to the rules has been lacking at TCHC, at least since the start of Jones’s tenure.
Here are four things we learned from the report.
1. For some, TCHC has been a terrifying place to work for the past two or three years
According to the report, there were 45 terminations at TCHC between June 2012 and November 2013, 41 of which were without cause. The firings began immediately after Jones started as CEO, and included 14 employees who had worked at the corporation for more than ten years. The report quotes a former executive as saying that this had “an enormously destabilizing effect.” The phrase “climate of fear” comes up more than once.
On top of all of this, the report says Jones’s hand-picked vice president of human resources, Anand Maharaj, was working to impose new contracts on non-union staff that drastically cut termination benefits.
2. The corporation isn’t great at keeping records
If the ombudsman’s report has a running theme, it’s outrage at TCHC’s shoddy record-keeping. Of 233 staffing changes reviewed by the ombudsman’s office, not one of them was documented in accordance with corporate policy, and nearly half had no documentation at all—or at least, none that was provided to investigators. Maharaj, the human-resources vice president, told the ombudsman’s office that he wasn’t aware of the documentation policies that apply to his department. The report suggests that the lapse may have been a result of the exodus of institutional knowledge that accompanied all the firings.
3. CEO Gene Jones believed he had the power to act unilaterally
The report documents several instances of Jones and his deputies hiring people without first going through competitive hiring processes, as required by TCHC policy. When questioned about certain hirings and promotions, Jones described them as his “prerogative.” He also pinned some blame on the unsettled situation at TCHC. Defending Maharaj’s appointment as human resources VP, Jones said: “I needed staff. I didn’t have any staff—no one to trust—and I had to put people into positions so I could move the agency over.”
4. There was at least one attempt at a coverup
Another problem identified in the report was a lack of compliance with corporate policies that govern salary hikes. The single most egregious example concerns an executive assistant, Leisin Chan. After Jones was hired, he quickly promoted Chan and hiked her salary significantly—but, in an unusual move, she was allowed to continue collecting overtime pay. Investigators found that Jones personally abetted accounting tricks in an attempt to keep the Chan’s pay below $100,000 on paper, even though in reality it was more than that. Presumably, his reason for doing this was to prevent her pay raise from becoming public knowledge. Public salaries in excess of $100,000 are disclosed annually on Ontario’s sunshine list.
Chan did eventually appear on the sunshine list, at a salary of $107,708. The TCHC board has already had a lawyer look into the incident.