Ombudsman says independence has come under attack
Chris Fox, cp24.com
Published Thursday, February 14, 2013 5:52AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 14, 2013 11:39AM EST
The independence of the ombudsman’s office has come under fire over the past year with challenges to its jurisdiction and attempts to curtail its enquiries, Fiona Crean writes in her annual report.
Crean, who has served as the city’s ombudsman since the role was first created in 2008, says that most of the attacks are likely attributed to confusion over the role of her office.
Created under the City of Toronto Act, Crean’s office is independent from city administration and is charged with investigating complaints from members of the public.
This year the office responded to 1,430 complaints and handled seven investigations.
“As people see investigations happening more frequently and at a systems level in pockets there is an increased resistance to that,” Crean told reporters Thursday morning. “That has a lot to do with a learning curve and understanding the role of the ombudsman. It is about understanding that we are actually here to assist and improve the administration.”
The ombudsman’s office has made 169 non-binding recommendations since its inception, all of which have been formally adapted by city council.
Addressing the need for independence, Crean writes that her office must be “transparent and explicit about its processes.”
Likewise, city council must provide the ombudsman’s office with “sustained leadership, respect for its function and sufficient funding.”
“The challenge of protecting ombudsman independence will never go away. It will pop up for my successor, just as it has for me this year,” Crean’s report states. “Every time there is a controversial investigation, the independence of the ombudsman is likely to be attacked. The context will be different, but not the underlying disagreement.”
In her report, Crean outlines the seven major investigations she undertook over the past year, which included a controversial look at the public appointments process at city hall.
That investigation drew considerable scorn from Mayor Rob Ford and his allies after a September report from Crean suggested that the mayor’s office interfered with a number of appointments to city agencies and committees.
Councillors Giorgio Mammoliti and Gord Perks even got into a heated confrontation over the matter, arguing nose-to-nose in front of rolling cameras at city hall after Mammoliti called the report “politically driven.”
“The annual report is the only opportunity for me to make broad observations about patterns and trends I see and I think it is true to say, and you saw this at city council in the fall, that there has been some challenges, all of which I think are about learning as this office really takes root,” Crean said Thursday. “I do want to be clear that I am talking about some public servants and some councillors. This is not to be generalized. “
Speaking with reporters at city hall Thursday morning, Crean said most complaints that came through her office in 2012 had to do with Municipal Licensing and Standards, Revenue Services or the Toronto Community Housing Corporation.
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