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Council to decide fate of ombudsman, future of watchdog
Members will vote on extending ombudsman Fiona Crean’s term and whether to give future holders of the job a fixed term.
March 18, 2015
By Jennifer Pagliaro

City council’s watchdog, Fiona Crean, says she agrees that the position of ombudsman should involve a seven-year appointment without the option for renewal.

To change to that length of term from what’s currently in place is a decision on the table for Mayor John Tory’s executive committee when it meets next week. Then it’s up to council to decide.

Since 2012, council has tossed and turned about what to do with ombudsman Crean - who has unreservedly exposed meddling with the civic appointments process and fielded an onslaught of complaints about former mayor Rob Ford’s office.

While her supporters on council have repeatedly pushed to renew her contract, Ford and his backers have tried to see her term ended quickly. (Ford also made a pitch to get rid of the whole office, along with the three other watchdog offices.)

Now council is expected, at its next meeting beginning March 31, to finally settle on the length of the ombudsman’s term in general, and what do with Crean’s appointment in particular.

City manager Joe Pennachetti has recommended that the future term of an ombudsman be fixed and increased to seven years from five.

Crean said she “wholeheartedly” agrees with that suggestion. “It’s important to be able to conduct investigations and be unfettered by political debates on whether or not I would be reappointed,” she said Wednesday.

For the past three years, that political debate has surrounded Crean’s work, with council split on whether she should continue in her role of investigating complaints from the public about the city government.

The current process allows council to reappoint an ombudsman just once, and for another five years. That requires a two-thirds vote.

Council must also decide on the ombudsman’s future a year before the end of the term. So, after being appointed in 2008, Crean’s re-appointment was first raised in 2012.

At the time, she faced blowback from Ford after she reported his office had interfered with civic appointments that are supposed to be decided by an independent committee, and that the list was “compromised” by political interference the previous year.

Instead of reappointing her for five years, as the rules allow, council voted instead to extend Crean’s term for two years - which means it expires this Nov. 16.

In July of last year, council again had to consider Crean’s fate beyond this year. Fearing they did not have enough votes at council, her supporters won a vote to defer that decision until after the Oct. 27 election.

The debate returns at the end of this month, when council could vote to extend her term an additional three or five years or show her the door.

The vote will follow decisions by council to deny both the ombudsman and integrity commissioner’s office the additional staff they had requested through the budget process.

Though Crean had asked for six extra staff for her office, after being inundated with public complaints and the addition of city-run corporations and TTC special constables to her field of jurisdiction, a surprise motion by Councillor Michelle Berardinetti threatened to flat-line all such staff increases.

In the end, council settled on just one new position a move Tory initiated, calling it a compromise.

Crean has said adding one staff member doesn’t come close to covering the current workload.