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Ombudsman Feb 2010

Ombudsman March 2010

Marie Chen, legal council and senior investigator for the ombudsman, met with Belinda Cole and Jutta Mason on March 2, 2010. The meeting lasted two hours, and a report will follow shortly.

Ombudsman February 2010

Update, Feb.24 2010:

Fiona Crean, the ombudsman, sent us the phone number of her "legal advisor and senior investigator" Marie Chen. Ms.Chen says that after an initial meeting at her office, she would consider coming to Dufferin Grove some evening. That would allow an open conversation around the table at the clubhouse, about how the ombudsman might help citizens in a situation like this one. (The issue is citywide, since neighbourhooods all over the city have lost their familiar rec supervisor.)

The ombudsman originally sent a letter saying she has no jurisdiction. When the letters kept coming, the response letter asked: "While we understand and empathize with your concerns, we would ask that you cease sending us correspondence and making calls on an issue we cannot pursue." Then various people wrote back giving their different interpretation of the ombudsman's role, and that's when Fiona Crean suggested talking to Marie Chen. A Dufferin Grove clubhouse conversation would give the ombudsman's staff to explain why they can't act. It might also give the new office a chance to hear counter-arguments, on the role of the ombudsman as interpreted by the citizens.

Original request, Feb.17 2010: Below is a letter to Toronto's new ombudsman, Fiona Crean. If you want to add your voice, you could block and paste this letter, or edit it as you choose, or write your own and send it to Fiona Crean at Councillor Adam Giambrone is trying to help here, so you might want to cc him at

Other cc's: - General manager Brenda Patterson at - Deputy City Manager Sue Corke at - Chair of Community Development and Recreation Committee Janet Davis at

Letter to Fiona Crean, Toronto ombudsman, Wednesday February 17, 2010:

Dear Madam,

For the last fifteen years, various community members have been working with city staff to build Dufferin Grove Park into a lively community commons. In the past year, this effort has come under sustained attack by Parks, Forestry and Recreation management. The front-line staff at the park have been warned that their community connections put them into a situation of conflict of interest, and last week we heard that the long-time Ward 18 recreation supervisor will be removed from this ward. We believe that his transfer to a back office at Metro Hall to work with building cleaners is a punishment for his support of our efforts, and is also meant to send a message to his colleagues.

The problem has a larger context. Recreation supervisors are an important point of connection between the city and its neighborhoods. Parks and Recreation management has a new policy of moving all these supervisors across the city to new locations, discarding existing working relationships with the community in favour of ever-tighter central control. We're concerned that this approach is causing lasting damage to what works well in our neighbourhood public spaces. Our concern extends to the waste of talents and taxes, as restrictive policies proliferate in the Parks and Recreation Department, and a culture of timidity takes over. Consultation with citizens (and, we are told, even their city councillors) is lacking, and direct appeals by citizens to management are rebuffed.

At Dufferin Grove Park we are now facing a crisis. There is no doubt but that a continuation of the administration's present approach will soon result in the collapse of what we have built, together with locally-responsive city staff, over many years. Can you help us?

This is the e-mail response from Fiona Crean, Ombudsman, sent at 4.22 pm Thursday Feb.18 2010:

We have had hundreds of complaints from the Dufferin Grove Park patrons and surrounding community about operational decisions being made by Parks, Forestry and Recreation (PFR) with respect to redeployment of their employees and related labour relations issues.

I can investigate public complaints about decisions, actions or recommendations made or omitted in the course of implementing City policies and administrating City services. However, I have no jurisdiction over the Dufferin Grove Park matters raised above. We note that PFR management is entitled and has the responsibility to redeploy their supervisors as it sees fit.

Despite this fact and because there have been so many complaints, we made enquiries. We remain satisfied that these issues are not within our jurisdiction to investigate.

We have been informed that the delivery of service by PFR to Dufferin Park will not be affected by the change in supervisors. While we understand and empathize with your concerns, it is simply not in my jurisdiction to look at.


Jutta Mason wrote to the ombudsman, Friday February 19, 2010

Dear Ms.Crean,

Your response to my February 17 e-mail, and to the hundreds of others you received on the same subject, raises more questions than it answers. I hope that the questions that follow in this letter will give you an opportunity to teach Torontonians more about the role of the ombudsman.

In your public talk last November at Scadding Community Centre, you said “test me,” and you also said that you wanted to address not only individual injustices but systemic problems. It’s our contention that the current actions of Parks and Recreation management provide an excellent opportunity to do that. Yesterday’s response from you suggests we are mistaken. We are puzzled and need more explanation.

To pose the problem again: what’s at issue here is systemic across the city, that is, the current Parks and Recreation management’s refusal to engage with the citizens in their local projects of enlivening their community commons. Working in public space, with the people who use it, is the job of Parks and Recreation Division. But under the present administration, staff who do respond to local initiatives where they work are just as likely to be moved somewhere else as those staff who ignore local wishes. In the case of the 15-year project at Dufferin Grove, the recreation supervisor who matched local initiatives with the needed support is being moved away from contact with citizens completely. We believe this is meant to send a warning to his colleagues across the city: don’t collaborate with local projects unless specifically directed from downtown. This top-down approach, mostly speaking with very little listening, is a very bad thing for our parks and community centres. It should be the other way around.

Management’s obliviousness to locally-generated projects is perceived as a problem across the city, not only in Ward 18. Complaints among citizens are rampant, as is their perception that there’s no one they can turn to. All other avenues, including the Community Development and Recreation Committee and the Parks Committee, have been tried, so far without remedy. So we came to you. Here are our follow-up questions:

1. In your letter, you said that you “made enquiries” about our complaint. But you did not make enquiries of us, the complainants, although I offered to provide more specific documentation. Why did you not?

2. You “note that PFR management is entitled and has the responsibility to deploy their supervisors as they see fit.” If Brenda Patterson decided to deploy all her recreation staff at computers or at Metro Hall, and not out in the field at all, is that also her entitlement? Is there a written description of the extent of this entitlement? Are there any limits to this entitlement which would ever come within the ombudsman’s jurisdiction?

3. You wrote that you are satisfied with the information you received, saying that Dufferin Grove Park will not be affected by the change in supervisors. That is not the opinion of the many people who wrote to you. If you are not the right person for citizens to approach when there is disagreement over the management of our public spaces, who is? Can you let us know the relevant policies that address this question?

4. There is a widely-perceived insufficiency of two-way consultation in some of the City’s divisions. This frustrates citizens, agencies, and even our elected representatives. The problem needs to be addressed case by case, without fear of recrimination – currently a rare thing indeed. Brenda Patterson announced the idea of moving all the recreation supervisors out of their areas over a year ago. This was never accompanied by active, ongoing two-way consultation, not with her own field staff and not with citizens. If the city’s policies make no provision for such collaboration, does the ombudsman have a role in recommending a change of approach?

I understand that these questions involve details that may need more research from your staff. This can take time, but we would appreciate knowing soon whether you feel the questions are good ones for you to address.

Jutta Mason
The Centre for Local Research into Public Space
416 533-0153


John Bowker wrote to the ombudsman Feb.19:

I understand that your mandate is to investigate systemic concerns as well as individual complaints. I don't believe my email mentioned any redeployment of local supervisors. My email concerned the Parks department's apparent policy of centralization, which is being undertaken despite the concerns of the local councillor and the opposition of the Dufferin Grove community. What mandate or authority is there for a policy that could destroy the vitality of this very special park?

On May 15, 2009, City Council received a PFR report that sought "approval for the principles of equitable access, quality, inclusion and capacity building as a foundation for the development of a City-wide, multi-year Recreation Service Plan." The report defines "capacity building" as the creation of programs that "create a sense of community, belonging, and vitality." The report's proposed work plan promised that "a strategy to engage staff, key stakeholders, and the broader community in the development of the Service Plan will take place over the next several months."

Nine months later, no such community engagement has taken place. Instead, a strategy of community disengagement has been taking place. While I did not mention the redeployment of a local supervisor in my first email, I would agree that the reassignment of the senior staffer who worked most closely with the neighbourhood appears to contradict the principle of community engagement that was mandated by City Council.

Therefore, my concern is not so much about one staffing decision, but is rather the failure of PFR to uphold its commitment to public engagement and its apparent indifference to the staff/community partnership that is responsible for the unique "sense of community, belonging, and vitality" that exists at Dufferin Grove. This commitment was a key part of Council approval for restructuring, and without such community engagement, PFR appears to be acting against Council's mandate.

Community commentary

M. G. wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Ombudsman,

I am including below a letter that you have no doubt already received from others. This is an important issue for me as a member of the Dufferin Grove community. The park has been a formative place for my children in Toronto and stands out as a model for how the City can work with its communities for good. To hear that it is now threatened in this way is disheartening and speaks to a short-sightedness within the City. I hope that you will hear both sides clearly and be able to help us find a resolution that continues to work, rather than 'fixing what is not broken'.

Thanks for your time and commitment to a solution.

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