Political Analyst and Observer, Bill Longworth's, Weekly "Eye on City Hall" Columns, as published in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada's Oshawa Central Newspaper

Monday, March 28, 2011

What's up Doc? Was There Some Illegal Hanky Panky at Oshawa City Hall?

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and Unfiltered Opinion
Reprinted from Oshawa Central Newspaper

Bill Longworth, City Hall Columnist
April 4, 2011

Sometimes when a set of facts comes to your attention for which there is no public explanation, your imagination runs wild with speculation.

And today’s column is such a state of affairs.

A top city bureaucratic official, Commissioner of Community Affairs, Stan Bertoia, whose 2010 salary was $186,778.39, left employment at Oshawa City Hall and a few months later took up employment in a junior position (Head Civil Design) with the Toronto Transit Commission at a vastly reduced salary of about $115,000.

Mr. Bertoia’s former department controlled the largest city budget, in excess of $35M, of any city department.

His department was responsible for the maintenance, improvement and beautification of the City’s roads, parks and public open spaces, including maintenance of valley lands, walking and bike trails, and forestry and horticulture programs, management of the parking system, management of the City’s recreational facilities, including the delivery of fitness and leisure programs and support programs for arts and culture, as well as the management and maintenance of City buildings, waste collection and environmental programs----quite broad and far reaching technical responsibilities.

For such a senior official at city hall, you’d think that there would be some public acknowledgement of his leaving.

The lack of any public acknowledgement of this major change at city hall smells of rot.

Equally baffling is the very quiet appointment of Garth Johns, formerly commissioner of Durham Region Human Resources, whose 2010 Regional salary was reported as $181,981.42 to fill Mr. Bertoia’s former position.

Mr John’s appointment to this top level city position seems to have taken place without any external executive search, formal vetting process of alternative candidates, or any candidate competition, all of which you’d think would be standard for senior public positions.

Nor does any evidence exist that a set of job qualifications, background experience, or hiring criteria were ever developed. After all, the public has to be assured that the best candidate available was hired in any public service capacity and, in this case, there is no evidence of identifying candidate experience or qualification criteria.

Mr. Bertoia was a professional engineer, a basic requirement you’d think with a responsibility to oversee roads and public buildings and the whole host of technical responsibilities in his department.

Bertoia’s replacement, Mr. Johns, in addition to operating a part time Human Resources Consulting Practice, holds a BA in health administration, an MBA, is a Certified Health Executive, a Certified Municipal Officer and holds additional certifications in Organizational Development, Conflict Management and Coaching, certainly not the kind of technical expertise we’d think would be required to oversee major engineering responsibilities.

There has also been no public announcement of Garth John’s appointment to the city senior administrative position.

The only public acknowledgement is his appearance at the March 3, 2011 meeting of the city’s Community Services Committee Agenda as the “Acting Commissioner” which has since been recently replaced on the city web site as “Commissioner.”

You’d think that such a high level appointment would have been accompanied by a press release.

All of this secrecy about Bertoia’s leaving and John’s appointment and the giant mismatch in filling the vacancy leaves a smell in the air of cronyism and the mysterious and unexpected vacancy leads to thoughts of cover up….and why? Which is where speculation begins to take place!

Human Resources, which seems to be Mr. John’s expertise and experience, falls under Oshawa’s Corporate Services Committee….so Mr. John’s appointment to the technical Community Services Department seems to be a giant mismatch of experience, competence and training….and there has been no public acknowledgement of this significant change of upper management at city hall.

As best as I can discover, Bertoia left the city employ sometime after Aug 31, 2010, the last community Services Committee meeting he attended prior to the October 25, 2010 election, and became employed at the TTC in February, 2011. He didn’t attend the January 20th City Community Service Meeting and so at that date, he was absent, had been fired or had resigned, or was on enforced leave prior to the first meeting of the new council Community Services Committee meeting on Jan 20, 2011.

If indeed there were ethical issues involving a dismissal, did the city hide this from Bertoia's new public employer?

Another interesting question is why Johns would choose to leave his job at the Region for a very comparable salary at Oshawa City Hall. Perhaps Johns is now part of the succession planning for City Manager.

Anyway, there are too many questions....and no authoritative answers to the questions!

Public figures and corporations who are caught in difficult or unusual circumstances have learned to get out in front and take control of the situation, but in some cases, those with the facts just want to play dumb, and by so doing compound any residual public relations problems arising from the situation.

A personnel issue, presumably involving Bertoia, was discussed in a 5 minute closed session of the Jan 20,2011 City Council Finance and Administration Committee attended by Councillors Diamond, Bouma, Aker, Wood and Mayor Henry as well as Support Services Manager, Mary Medeiros, Corporate Services Commissioner Rick Stockman, and Finance Services Director Chris Brown.

This short 5 minute in-camera session was obviously simply an information session for councillors as there is no evidence of any discussion or decision being made in the few minutes and so I surmise the decision had been made earlier outside of the realm of council.

The fact that the closed meeting to discuss a confidential personnel issue was attended by the Corporate Services Commissioner and the Finance Services Director suggests discussion of unethical or illegal transgressions around city cash.

Smart PR people know that they can reduce the collateral damage of public speculation resulting from negative situations by full information disclosure--otherwise the public will expect the worst.

The fact that Mr. Bertoia left his city commissioner job at a 2010 salary of $186,778.39 for another employer that paid him about $115,000 annually which he started after a 3-4 month period of unemployment suggests a dismissal from his Oshawa position.

The fact that there have been no threats of lawsuits for wrongful dismissal suggests a dismissal for cause.

The fact that a “personnel issue” was discussed at the Jan. 20, 2011 in-camera meeting of the Finance and Administration committee of council attended by city financial officers, Corporate Services Commissioner R. Stockman and Finance Services Director C. Brown suggests a financial concern in relation to the personnel issue.

The fact that the personnel issue was discussed by a committee of council suggests a serious discussion about a senior level employee.

Obviously politicians Diamond, Bouma, Aker, Wood, and Mayor Henry who attended the Jan. 20th Finance and Administration meeting have decided to perpetrate the past lack of council transparency and keep taxpayers in the dark about potential difficult circumstances at city hall.

All of these politicians who have direct knowledge of all of the details of the issue campaigned on increased accountability and transparency, and now they’ve chosen to keep you, the taxpayer, in the dark!

In the light of no official information regarding this issue, and the juxtaposition of all of these factors along with Mr. Bertoia’s sudden and unexpected departure suggests a reasonable assumption of corporate fraud through one of the many types outlined in the Deloitte and Touché Report, “Confronting Fraud and Unethical Behaviour in Government” quoted in my March 7, 2011 Oshawa Central Newspaper Column "Greed Trumps Trust Even in Public Service."

As pointed out in the Deloitte Report, one in six cases of government fraud results in losses in excess of $1M and 26% of these cases were never prosecuted.

If indeed, there was some fraud perpetrated on public moneys in this case, then the public has a right to know the details of the loss and assurance that any guilty party would be prosecuted with full restitution and appropriate criminal penalties being sought.

If there was no fraud in this case, despite all appearances to the contrary, city officials have the responsibility to provide full information regarding Mr. Bertoia’s sudden departure from the city with a view to protecting his reputation and the integrity of the city’s financial controls.

A cover up is an injustice to every city taxpayer and every party interested and involved in this issue.

And another major question. Why is the Oshawa press not all over this like fleas on a stray cat? Is it possible they’re too busy researching stories on silly PR stunts like “Durham Politicians to shed pounds for good cause” to report on things that really matter?

We’d better pass this on to the Toronto papers for some serious investigation and reporting on Oshawa City Hall!

Be sure to follow Bill’s radio broadcasts, “Eye on City Hall”,
every Monday, 6-9 pm EST, on http://www.ocentral.com/thewave/

1 comment:

  1. An interesting post from an interesting organization (google it!) very pertinent to this column. The post itself raises many questions supporting the many questions raised in the column. --- Blog Administrator