Huricane Juan
Toronto Star
  • Stouffville mayor has yet to apologize for CSI-style wall

    Is it too late now to say sorry?

    The mayor of Whitchurch-Stouffville may soon be singing these lyrics as his deadline to apologize to staff for his controversial CSI-style wall draws near.

    Justin Altmann has until Dec. 22 to make a public apology for the unusual photo mural he put up of staff, councillors and citizens in his office washroom earlier this year.

    But his apology must be made during a council meeting and Tuesday’s session is the last one scheduled for the year.

    Altmann did not respond to numerous questions from the Star about when he will apologize, or why he hasn’t done so thus far. But Glenn Jackson, a spokesperson for the town, confirmed that “the mayor has not apologized in open session of council.”

    In September, Stouffville councillors adopted recommendations from the town’s integrity commissioner after a probe she launched in the wake of a staff member’s complaint. The probe concluded the creation of the wall breached the town’s code of conduct and was akin to “workplace harassment.”

    Suzanne Craig recommended Altmann be docked a month’s pay, or around $5,076.33 (the equivalent of a month of town pay and a month of car allowance), and be given 90 days to apologize to town staff.

    The recommendation in relation to the apology states that council: “request the respondent to issue an apology, in open session of council, for having created the wall in the office of the mayor’s washroom which was then viewed by staff, which was vexatious and disturbing to staff and amounted to a serious incident of workplace harassment.”

    Read more:

    Stouffville mayor ordered to apologize for ‘disturbing’ behaviour

    Stouffville mayor asks for community support as investigation into his CSI-style wall nears its end

    Stouffville residents raise alarm over ‘CSI-style’ wall

    Councillors say they have been waiting for an apology since day one.

    “The staff is deserving of the apology,” said Ward 3 councillor Hugo Kroon.

    “Staff has been, and in my mind, continues to be an unwilling and unnecessary participant in the mayor’s ongoing actions. They have been collateral damage, and did not deserve the treatment for which the mayor has been accused and found guilty of,” he said. “There needs to be recompense for those actions, and the apology is only a start.”

    While Altmann did not respond to questions from the Star, on a recent radio interview with 105.9 The Region, he said he would not apologize, but rather, would challenge the ethics probe.

    “I will be going to appeal the integrity commissioner’s decision,” he said in the Nov. 15 interview.

    “I will be asking for a judicial review, and that will take a process, and that will go and look at how the process and everything was done,” he said. “Members of council want an apology; they want to say ‘he was wrong, he’s done this.’ In all honesty, I am a very reputable person. My integrity is everything.”

    Craig says of all the ethics probes she has conducted, this would be the first where an apology has not been made.

    “I have investigated dozens of complaints if not more, and made recommendations to council by way of sanctions such as an apology and suspensions,” she said.

    “But where I have recommended an apology, the respondent has always apologized,” she said, adding she has never worked in a municipality where the “request for an apology has been blatantly ignored.”

    Many councillors agree an apology is the best way to put the bizarre episode to rest.

    “You have to take responsibility for your actions,” said Ward 5 councillor Iain Lovatt. “I think it shows courage to own up to how you have made people feel intentionally or unintentionally. And I think it’s the sign of a good leader,” he said.

    “I would love to put this incident behind us and try and salvage the last year of our term,” he added. “But I don’t know if that’s going to happen.”

    If Altmann doesn’t take any action by the Dec. 22 deadline, his non-action could trigger another code of conduct complaint — leading to further sanctions.

    But the first investigation into the wall has already cost taxpayers over $100,000. Craig’s portion was $36,210.45 and an independent investigator cost the town $75,000.

    If Altmann decides to pursue a judicial review, that could be another costly venture for the town’s residents.

    In 2016, Vaughan’s former deputy mayor, Michael Di Biase, challenged the findings of Craig’s ethics probe that found he had created a “culture of fear” among city staff, and interfered in the city’s procurement process.

    After a two-day hearing in divisional court, a panel of judge’s threw out Di Biase’s appeal. But taxpayers were still on the hook for $134,683 for both the city and Craig’s legal fees

    Di Biase’s legal fees were not covered by the city.

  • ?I stood up for the TTC?: Andy Byford reflects on his tenure, navigating messy politics and late-night calls from Rob Ford

    In the early days of his term as head of the TTC, Andy Byford says he could count on being woken up at least once a week by a late night call from Rob Ford.

    “I got very used to phone calls at 2 a.m., even 3 a.m., from the mayor,” Byford told an audience at the Empire Club of Canada last week.

    To Byford’s bemusement, Ford would always introduce himself as “Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto.”

    “And I’m like, ‘I do know who you are. What do you want, it’s 3 a.m.?’”

    Ford would invariably respond, “‘Hey buddy, I’m standing at the corner … I’ve got someone here who wants to know where their bus is.”

    Read more:

    Text from Byford contradict public statements on subway memo

    Edward Keenan: Byford has woven his own tangled web of confusion

    Andy Byford leaving the TTC for a job with New York City Transit

    “How the hell am I supposed to know where that bus is?” Byford would think, but he would agree to talk to whoever Ford was standing with, and would, in his words, “wing it.”

    “Ah yes, we’ve just had a bit of a problem on that route, it was a traffic accident, (the bus) will be with you in five minutes,” Byford would improvise, having no idea whether the bus was indeed five minutes away.

    Despite the lost sleep, Byford was always willing to answer the phone. (The TTC chief said Ford, who would later become engulfed in a crack cocaine scandal, never sounded inebriated when he called.) The bus rider would feel better about waiting, and “the mayor was very happy with me because I had bothered to take the call.”

    Last month, after more than five years as the CEO of the TTC, Byford announced he was leaving to become president of the New York City Transit Authority. He will step down on Dec. 22.

    In a series of speeches and interviews since he announced his resignation, he’s spoken candidly about Toronto’s messy transit politics, and what he did to try to avoid being pulled into them — a risk that never seemed more than a phone call away.

    When Byford, now 52, joined the TTC in 2011, he walked right into a political firestorm.

    Two decades into a transit career that had already taken him from his native England to Australia, he was initially hired as the TTC’s chief operating officer. The plan was for him to shadow general manager Gary Webster for a year, and then take over his job.

    But he was vaulted into the top position after only three months when Ford’s allies on the TTC board fired Webster for refusing to back the mayor’s push for a subway into Scarborough.

    In an exit interview with the Star last week, Byford said he took a clear message from Webster’s dismissal.

    “I realized this was a very political environment. If you fell out of favour with the powers that be, that potentially (being fired) was the consequence.”

    Webster had brought Byford on to improve the TTC’s customer service, but he quickly realized the job was much bigger than that.

    The subway system was “squalid,” he recalled, and basic features of a modern transit system, like allowing passengers to buy fares using debit or credit cards, weren’t in place.

    “It was obvious that what was really needed was a comprehensive, top-to-bottom modernization of the TTC,” he said.

    Byford crafted a five-year plan aimed at overhauling virtually every aspect of the transit system, including improving service, professionalizing its workplace culture, eliminating financial waste, and restoring the TTC’s reputation. He focused initially on “quick wins,” like cleaning subway stations more often, and installing debit machines.

    He became known for speaking bluntly about the agency’s failings while promising to do better, and for publicly apologizing for incidents such as subway delays.

    Meanwhile the fractious debate over transit continued at city hall. Council voted to kill Ford’s plan for an extension of the Sheppard subway in 2012, but abruptly reversed course the following year and voted to replace the aging Scarborough RT with a subway extension, instead of a cheaper light rail transit (LRT) line.

    While councillors feuded, Byford endeavoured to earn the respect of politicians across the political spectrum. It worked. Veterans of the transit wars of the time have nothing but glowing words for him.

    “He didn’t get involved in the politics of it. He just put his head down and said, ‘OK I’ve got work to do now,’” recalled Karen Stintz, the former councillor who was chair of the TTC between 2010 and 2014.

    “(He) availed himself to everybody irrespective of their politics.”

    “Andy’s the ultimate professional,” said Doug Ford, the former councillor and Rob Ford’s brother who became Stintz’s bitter rival after she helped kill the Sheppard subway.

    “You tell Andy (to) build streetcars, he’ll build streetcars. You tell him to build subways, he’s going to build subways … he’d just follow directions.”

    Byford is officially agnostic on whether a subway extension or LRT is the best option for Scarborough. But while proponents of the subway, including Mayor John Tory, frequently assert that council has already approved the project multiple times, Byford doesn’t consider it a done deal.

    The cost of the one-stop extension is estimated $3.35 billion, which critics say is a wildly inefficient use of transit resources. The TTC is expected to advance the design closer to completion next year, which will result in a more accurate cost estimate, expected to be higher.

    “If the cost increase is exorbitant … the TTC certainly would need to reconsider its position,” Byford warned.

    He added that “ideally” the decision would be informed by a cost-benefit analysis of the subway project. Last week Tory and a majority of council rejected a motion asking for such a study.

    While ostensibly happy with either the LRT or subway, at the Empire Club Byford described the Scarborough controversy as “an albatross around my neck.”

    He has also expressed dismay at the calibre of the transit debate in Toronto, telling reporters at his resignation that “there’s been far too much transit planning in this city where facts haven’t been taken into account.”

    In the exit interview, he clarified that he was referring to the “infantile perception” harboured by some that “only a subway will do, and other forms of transit aren’t good forms of transit.”

    Despite attempts to avoid being tripped up by the Scarborough subway controversy, Byford was ensnared by the debate in the summer of 2016. That’s when, days after the public learned the cost of the subway had ballooned by $1 billion, the TTC produced a briefing note that asserted the price of the LRT had also skyrocketed, to $3 billion, nearly twice the original estimate and almost as much as the subway.

    The TTC sent the briefing note exclusively to the mayor’s office and his TTC chair, Josh Colle, despite city policies mandating information from staff be equally distributed to council. The mayor’s office then leaked the document to the media and used it to convince councillors who were worried about rising subway costs that the LRT plan was just as expensive. Council voted to proceed with the subway.

    After the Star reported errors in the note, a transit advocacy group filed a complaint about Byford with the city, alleging the note had been politically influenced and that the TTC had misled council.

    The resulting investigation by the auditor general determined Byford and the TTC hadn’t deliberately misled council, and found “no evidence of any lack of integrity” on his part. But it also found the agency had based its cost estimate for the LRT on incorrect information.

    Byford has said the accusation he misled council “wounded me terribly,” and has maintained the TTC produced the briefing note of its own accord to prepare for a council debate. He has asserted that no one directed the transit agency to produce the note, and that it wasn’t intended for the mayor.

    Last week however the Star reported that Byford privately contradicted those public statements when in July 2016 he sent Coun. Josh Matlow a text message that said the TTC had prepared the briefing note “at the chair’s request and for the mayor’s office.”

    Byford claims the text is “consistent” with his earlier statements. “There was no direction by elected officials to create the briefing note, nor was there direction to change or amend its contents,” he said.

    The briefing note episode has cast a cloud over what has been an otherwise sunny final few months for Byford. In June, the TTC was named transit system of the year by the American Public Transportation Association, and on Dec. 17 Byford will oversee the opening of what he describes as “the jewel in the crown” — the $3.2-billion Spadina subway extension to York.

    Byford said he hopes to be remembered as a leader who restored pride in the TTC, advanced major projects such as the Presto fare card system, and got the Spadina extension back on track after it was hit by delays and cost overruns. He points to record customer satisfaction scores as proof of a job well done.

    He said he never let what happened to Webster change how he did his job. “I’ve never once felt under pressure from a political dismissal,” he said.

    “I stood up for the TTC, I stood up for my customers, and I never shied from bad news.”

  • The ?zombie law? may be coming to Ontario. Can you guess how many pedestrians we saw on cell phones at one Toronto intersection in 10 minutes?

    A proposed “zombie law” could mean bad news for Ontario pedestrians.

    The “Phones Down, Heads Up Act,” proposed by Liberal MPP Yvan Baker, passed its first reading, and Baker intends to bring it to a second reading in March.

    Under the proposed bill, pedestrians could face fines of $50 for a first offence, $75 for a second offence, and $125 for each consecutive offence after that.

    Last week, the Star decided to do a test. Star photojournalist Rene Johnston set up a camera and filmed pedestrians crossing at the Yonge and Dundas Sts. intersection to see how many fines could be laid if the bill takes effect. Can you guess how many pedestrians were spotted using their phones crossing the intersection, and how much money in fines could have been issued?

    Read more:

    Edward Keenan: Distracted walking ban is a zombie idea that has infected the brains of reasonable people

    Shawn Micallef: Forget the zombie law, we need to design safer roads

    Emma Teitel: Toronto should follow Honolulu’s lead and fine distracted walkers

    With files from Rene Johnston, Kelsey Wilson and Ben Spurr

Arts & Letters
Sunday, 12 August 2007