By SUE-ANN LEVY, City Hall Columnist
It was both surreal and pathetic.
Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) chairman David Mitchell — handpicked by the David Miller regime in March of 2008 — actually had the audacity to stand before the media Monday and claim he was both “angry and indignant” with the obscene spending and purchasing abuses discovered at Canada’s largest social housing company in Toronto Auditor-General Jeff Griffiths’ Feb. 25 report.
“I realized the people in whom I put my trust were not deserving of that trust … frankly I feel betrayed,” said the deputy superintendent at the Metro East Detention Centre, throwing essentially all of TCHC’s former senior officials under the bus to cover his butt.
CEO Keiko Nakamura, who made $217,617 in 2009 and was part of the executive team when the abuses occurred, claimed she was “appalled and outraged” that something like this could happen at TCHC. She insisted she conducted herself “with complete integrity” and has been trying to move the company forward since filling the position of CEO a year ago.
There was no apology and no contrition. There was no acknowledgement by either that while the TCHC brass was enjoying $50,000 Christmas parties attended by 800 staff, $6,000 bonding sessions in Muskoka, $1,925 planning meetings at Elmwood Spa (complete with mani-pedis), and purchasing more than $5-million worth of fixtures, flooring, solar panels, toilets and sinks through a sole-source contract in China, many of their tenants have been living in squalid conditions, subject to security concerns and unable to access the most basic of repairs.
Might I add, as budget chief Mike Del Grande reminded us Monday, the TCHC poured the $75-million it got in 2008 from the city’s sale of Hydro Telecom into the stock market — and lost $50-million of it — instead of of using it to refurbish 5,000 social housing units as it was supposed to do.
Despite all of this, there was only a slick, less than sincere, series of pat answers from Mitchell and Nakamura that smacked of an entire weekend of pricey media training.
But yours truly wasn’t about to let either of them get away with it.
After all, as my late bubby (grandmother) used to say: “A fish rots from the head.”
When it came time to question the two of them, I suggested to Mitchell that he’d been chairman for three years — making some $20,000 per year and $500 per meeting to fulfill that function — and either he was terribly incompetent or complicit to have turned a blind eye to all the abuses.
Mitchell claimed he accepts responsibility — but only for not asking enough questions of the senior brass.
“I placed our trust in people which I now realize was misplaced,” he said.
But the pregnant pause I got when I asked him whether he’d attended any of the $50,000 Christmas parties was far more telling.
“Have I gone to any of the seasonal celebrations? Yes,” he said, adding he couldn’t remember how many.
I also asked Nakamura — who approved the 2010 “seasonal celebration” despite her so-called attempts to bring in fiscal controls — why she didn’t blow the whistle on the TCHC’s culture of entitlement before the A-G did.
She didn’t answer.
Of course. There was no answer.
“It’s time for it (the culture) to change immediately and change starts at the top,” Mayor Ford said Monday. “The party’s over and we have to put an end to it.”
Now this audit couldn’t have come at a better time for the Ford team — considering that all the naysayers are out in full force about the lack of gravy at City Hall.
I predict that Nakamura, Mitchell and the rest of the civilian members of the board will be out the door by the end of this week.
And so they should be.
Whether they participated in the abuse of the public purse or not, they allowed these obscenities to occur.
“Obviously we have a long road ahead of us,” said Del Grande, calling the TCHC audit an “accounting horror story.”
If the culture of spending is ever to end at City Hall, heads must roll — and fast.