08/23/2012 12:15 EDT | Updated 10/23/2012 05:12 EDT

The Perks of Being a Public Servant

money pile  100 dollar bills
money pile 100 dollar bills

Housing bonuses: they're kind of like deranged nutbars who take it upon themselves to shoot up a school, or a shopping mall, or a church event, or even a holiday camp in Norway. Until it happens, there's no practical way to prevent them. You can't arrest people without cause.

One might not see the link between the above behaviour, and those who've been in executive positions with Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), whose main purpose was to loot the till. As the blessed Sue-Anne Levy has noted, some of them "got out while the getting was good."

It staggers the imagination how so many of these people got six-figure salaries, and bonuses that reached 20 per cent of their salaries, and when they quit or were let go (read: fired) they got severances that equalled their salaries.

To ordinary citizens, what these people got verged on criminal -- not by them, necessarily, but by the TCHC which not only tolerated but condoned and even encouraged lehal larceny. Again, as with nutbars who indulge in mass shootings, there is no telling who among executives is going to loot the till until they do it. And then it's too late. One thing about nutbar gunmen is that they often save the last bullet for themselves.

These executives, exposed by Levy, go to ground, or to other jobs and don't return phone calls. They hope the furor dies down -- which it always does.

According to Levy, one interim CEO walked off with something like $600,000 for 18 months on the job. And bonuses were handed out while TCHC's capital repairs backlog grew to $750 million. TCHC outrages came under the spotlight in 2011 when Auditor General Jeffery Griffiths nailed "inappropriate expenses" such as nearly $2,000 for manicures and pedicures; $53,000 for a staff party; $40,000 for a staff Christmas party; $1,800 for a staff boat cruise; $800, for massages at a staff picnic. That sort of stuff. Looting the till indeed!

How about $1,000 box of chocolates from Holt Renfrew?

All this done with contracts given and re-given for housing repairs that were done badly or not done and for which TCHC overpaid.

Incensed at the blatancy of the looting, Mayor Rob Ford demanded the resignation of the THCH board which showed signs of defiance, but then quit en masse. Ford wanted the THCH privatized, but this idea was deemed too complicated. Maybe, but it's harder to loot the till with private management than with government management.

Instead former councilor Case Ootes was placed in charge until this June when Gene Jones was named president and CEO of TCHC. Jones was recently executive director of the Detroit Housing Commission and has had considerable experience with U.S. public housing.

One has to give him a chance, but a recent interview was somewhat disquieting when he was quoted saying he had no problem defending a 20 per cent salary bonus after his first year if he meets certain standards. Whatever happened to the old fashioned idea that one's salary was sufficient to guarantee the recipient fulfilling the job he was hired for? Today, it seems necessary to add a bonus as an incentive.

Frankly, bonuses are largely a rip-off -- unless you are a professional baseball pitcher who wins more games than expected, or a hockey player whose goal production exceeds what's written into your contracts. Too often big bonuses for executives are automatic, like 1.5 per cent raises for working stiffs.

Do you think the TCHC culture will change? Nor do I. We shall see.