TCHC hires lawyers to probe allegations of improper acts by CEO [Legal Monitor Worldwide]
(Legal Monitor Worldwide Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The chair of the Toronto Community Housing Corp. board of directors has called in a law firm to investigate allegations of improper acts by senior management, including chief executive officer Gene Jones.
One allegation is that management made an inappropriate attempt to keep Jones's executive assistant off of the public "sunshine list" even though she earned more than $100,000 in 2013.
A second allegation is that Jones unilaterally fired the public housing company's new chief operating officer and gave her a severance payment while publicly claiming that she resigned.
The firm Cassels Brock & Blackwell is conducting the probe. Board chair Bud Purves says he hopes it will be complete by the end of the month.
Last Saturday, Purves called an urgent board meeting for the next day at the Cassels Brock office on King St. Board members were instructed in writing to direct all questions to Purves and "not to contact management."
Purves confirmed he had launched an investigation but refused to discuss any details when contacted by the Star on Friday.
"There is an investigation," Purves said. "Something came to my attention, during the week, of a matter. As you know, I take incidents of questions (about) the integrity of the management quite seriously."
The executive assistant, Leisin Chan, had a base salary of less than $100,000, according to a source familiar with the investigation, but additional payments allegedly brought her above the $100,000 threshold at which her earnings must be disclosed to the public.
The lawyers are looking into an allegation that, when Chan's tax forms were completed and senior managers discovered that she qualified for the sunshine list, someone instructed the human resources department to "fix" the situation somehow, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
The second allegation concerns the sudden departure of chief operating officer Kathleen Llewellyn-Thomas. She stopped working for the TCHC on Jan. 7, just four months after she began.
The TCHC announced in its January newsletter that Llewellyn-Thomas "resigned." According to two sources familiar with the investigation, the law firm has been told that Jones actually fired Llewellyn-Thomas and agreed to give her $150,000.
Jones turned down an interview request through TCHC spokesperson Sara Goldvine. Goldvine refused to say whether the TCHC continues to stand by its statement that Llewellyn-Thomas resigned.
"I cannot comment on that," she said.
Goldvine said she "cannot comment on any investigation that is ongoing." And she would not make clear whether Jones has the power to terminate an executive as senior as the chief operating officer without the involvement of the board.
"That process is part of the investigation," Goldvine said.
Goldvine did provide a link to a formal policy that suggests the board is to decide on the dismissal of senior executives, "in consultation" with the CEO. Board members were surprised to learn Llewellyn-Thomas had vanished, the two sources said.
Llewellyn-Thomas and Chan could not be reached on Friday. None of the allegations has been proven.
Chan is listed on the TCHC website as the executive assistant to both Jones and Purves. The Star spoke to Purves about the Chan matter before learning of the Llewellyn-Thomas matter; he could not be reached again to discuss it.
Purves, who has announced his intention to resign from the board early this year, said he acted last week after he was contacted by the TCHC's internal auditor, who had received a tip. Board members were told that the tip came from a whistleblower inside the organization.
"I asked that we retain outside counsel to give us a preliminary view as to whether we should look further. Outside counsel got back to me on Saturday. We are going further," Purves said. "We haven't concluded the facts yet, but there's enough to, shall I say, get in touch with the board on late Saturday afternoon, and yes, I did bring the board together on Sunday to tell them we have outside counsel looking into something."
He added: "Either the report will say that this actually wasn't the case, and then that will be the end of it, or, if it is the case, then the board will have to take some other course of action."
The sources asked for anonymity to discuss a sensitive and confidential matter on which they were not authorized to speak.
Jones took over in June 2012after Mayor Rob Ford forced the dismissal of the TCHC board and the firing of chief executive Keiko Nakamura in the wake of a 2011 spending and procurement scandal.
Jones has faced trouble of his own.
In June 2013, city ombudsman Fiona Crean released the results of an investigation that found the TCHC had continued to needlessly evict elderly tenants with rent arrears.
In August 2013, Crean launched a separate investigation into the TCHC's "adherence to recruitment policies in the hiring and promotion of staff" after receiving complaints from employees about Jones's practices during his broad management shakeup. That investigation is ongoing.
Llewellyn-Thomas, an engineer who worked in the Toronto government for more than 25 years, had an annual salary between $162,446 and $198,106. Prior to joining the TCHC, she was York Region's commissioner of transportation and community planning for more than five years.
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