POLITICS

Communication is a "huge" problem at Toronto City Hall; ombudsman

02/14/2013 02:38 EST | Updated 04/16/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - The most serious problem hampering business at Toronto City Hall is lack of communication, the city's ombudsman said Thursday.

Fiona Crean emphasized the shortcoming in her 2012 annual report, which offered a glimpse into the complaints residents lodge against municipal departments and staff.

Crean said her office investigated 1,430 complaints last year, seven of which evolved into full-fledged investigations.

The lion's share of complaints were filed against Toronto Municipal Licensing Standards, Revenue Services and Toronto Community Housing, Crean said, adding the bulk of residents' issues centred around communication practices.

"The communications issue is a huge problem. That really does need addressing," Crean told a news conference. "There is no reason to not be able to get back to residents, to explain promptly, properly, and fully what it is that's going on."

Communication issues also plagued some of Crean's own dealings with municipal staff, she said. Her role is still not clearly understood by some departments and city councillors despite existing since 2009, she said, adding she has encountered "pockets of resistance" to her independent probes. She did not specifically name any departments or councillors in her report.

Crean's office has been the focus of public debate, most recently last fall when she suggested that Mayor Rob Ford's office had interfered with a number of public appointments.

Ford's allies denounced Crean's report as politically motivated with one former stalwart, Giorgio Mammoliti, very nearly coming to blows with left-leaning councillor Gord Perks over the issue.

Crean said transparency will be key to defining her office's role as an independent investigator, adding the occasional resistance she encounters now is par for the course.

"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."