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Fantino wants two more years

Chief wants his mandate extended

Chief Julian Fantino

Chief Julian Fantino has told the Toronto Police Services Board he wants to stay in his job for an extra two years, taking his mandate to 2007.

But what appeared a slam-dunk last spring, when new contract negotiations began, has run into problems.

Fantino's negotiations with a special three-member committee, set up by the police board last year to finalize his contract, bogged down - apparently over salary differences - shortly before the Nov. 10 election of Mayor David Miller and the subsequent rejigging of the board.

Fantino will not comment on contract negotiations.

"His view is that he will discuss his preferences with the people who employ him," Mark Pugash, the police force's director of corporate communications, said last night.

However, the chief's future now appears to hinge on shifting winds at the volatile police board. The board is in disarray, rocked by scandal, poor morale and confusion, and operating with only five of its mandated seven members - four appointed by the city and three by the province.

"These are dreadful circumstances," says its new vice-chair, Councillor Pam McConnell. "We've got a board full of rookies. Our bench strength is weak, our corporate memory is not deep."

The board stands one provincial appointment short with the resignation last month of former Ontario Conservative cabinet minister Al Leach. All appointments by new Premier Dalton McGuinty remain frozen, according to an Ontario government spokesperson.

As well, former chair Norm Gardner is out of action, possible only temporarily, in the aftermath of a gun scandal.

Acting chair Alan Heisey is embroiled in a controversy with the potential to drag the board's critical agenda to a dead halt, including the issue of a new chief.

Last year, things looked rosier for Fantino, now 61.

In fact, last spring, when former mayor Mel Lastman brought the idea of the chief's reappointment to the police services board, then chaired by Gardner, Fantino told the meeting an extended contract suited him because he wanted more time "to look at who he could bring up to replace him from lower in the ranks," according to a source. Several officials told the Star that, under Lastman, Fantino appeared to have free rein, even to the point of fingering his successor.

But, said one, "to be fair, it wasn't the chief's fault. The view of the board was always: 'Whatever Julian wants, that's what we'll give him."'

There were no annual performance reviews for the chief, sources say, and no careful examination of his budget by a special board subcommittee. No such scrutinizing agency has ever existed in what is described as a fast-and-loose atmosphere dominated by the chief.

By fall, the board had appointed a committee to enter into talks to reach a new contract with Fantino. Its members were Dr. Benson Lau, a provincial appointee, Heisey and Leach. They met several times, according to Lau, to work out the conditions of the contract.

Fantino "expressed his intention to stay," Lau said. "He wanted to extend his contract another two years. These were formal labour negotiations ... We are negotiating right now."

However, Lau added that "nothing can happen until (the question) of the chair is settled."

"We are required to talk about the issue of the chief in a very little while," said vice-chair McConnell. "His contract is coming to a conclusion (in March, 2005), and there is an indication he is looking for an extension before the board."

That's why the timing of last week's leaked memo about Heisey threw such a wrench into the board's agenda. Written 18 months ago by a Toronto sex crimes detective and leaked a week after Heisey took over as acting chair, it raises questions about Heisey's propriety in asking about a child pornography case, as well as his view of such a disturbing subject.

"I find the inference I 'understand' a pedophile or pornographer deeply offensive," Heisey said last week. While he continues as chair, his position is uncertain. The matter is under external legal review.

Several sources said they are deeply suspicious about the timing of the Heisey leak. It neatly shifted attention away from last week's hearing by the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services, on whether Gardner acted improperly in accepting ammunition from police stores and a handgun from a private dealer.

Several sources suggest that time slipping away from the unravelling board works in Fantino's favour. The longer the board waits, the harder it might be to roll out a red-carpet executive search to find a successor.

Fantino, with responsibility for a 7,000-member force in Canada's largest city, earns $177,000. While one official said it's thought "he made a mistake" in not grabbing his contract when he had the chance under Lastman, there is a general feeling that the chief is underpaid.

"My personal feeling is that he has a tough job to do, and every organization has to have a strong leader who can maintain the integrity of the service," says Lau, who supports a new contract for Fantino.

It's thought that if his reappointment becomes really messy — or messier than it already is — he might withdraw rather than face defeat at the police services board.

Miller declined to sit on the new board himself, appointing Councillors McConnell, John Filion and Case Ootes. Heisey is a city appointment, and Gardner, whose term extends to December, could well return.

One source last night described the "spookiness" of the atmosphere around the board.

"Sure, you should be careful what you say after a few glasses of wine in front of detectives, so, okay, what Heisey did was not wise," he said. "But it's scary for everybody around it. There's a sense that if you're not a cheerleader for the police, they're may get you. You know - one misstep and watch out!"