The Star has tried for a year to find out how much Persiko and other parking authority executives are paid, but the city agency has hired an employment law firm to fight the release of the information.
The TPA has paid lawyers more than $5,000 to thwart the Star’s requests, according to documents obtained by the Star.
Typically, the salaries of heads of city agencies and corporations can be found on either the province’s public sector salary (Sunshine) list or on executive compensation reports provided to the city.
While the salaries of other city agency executives, including the heads of the TTC, Toronto Zoo, Exhibition Place, Toronto Public Health and Toronto Public Library are all available, the salary of Persiko, who has been president of the TPA since 2012 according to his LinkedIn page, is absent.
Persiko could not be reached for comment for this story.
Though the parking authority is responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in city assets, the city confirmed the agency is exempt from the provincial public salary disclosure rules because it receives no public funding.
A 2012 council directive required all city agencies and corporations to report individual executive compensation to the city manager, an action the city said Tuesday the TPA has complied with. The information is then provided to city council in a confidential report.
City spokesperson Wynna Brown said the city could not provide the requested salary information, noting the parking authority is an entity separate from the city under public disclosure and access to information rules.
“We’ve been in touch with the TPA about your request,” she said. “I can advise that while they are not currently in a position to provide the information requested, they will be reviewing this matter on an expedited basis.”
The parking authority has been under scrutiny after an investigation by Auditor General Beverly Romeo-Beehler. Romeo-Beehler found the authority was negotiating a North York land purchase and appeared set to pay more than $2.63 million over fair market value for the property. The deal has been halted, but since then council has appointed a temporary watchdog board, which on Monday put Persiko and another executive, Marie Casista, on administrative leave pending further investigation. Casista is also on paid leave.
Audited financial statements for the parking authoritydo not disclose specific salaries. They say only: “compensation to the key managers, including directors, with responsibility to plan, direct and control the operations of the authority” totaled $1.39 million in 2016. In 2015, the total was $1.47 million.
In March of last year, the Star requested the salaries of all the top executives at the Toronto Parking Authority and was told to file an access-to-information request. That request was rejected by the parking authority on the grounds that salaries were “employment-related matters.”
The Star appealed that rejection to the province’s information commissioner. The TPA, through law firm Hicks Morley LLP has continued to argue against releasing the information.
In a written representation they argued that the information should not be released because it is housed in a software system called “HRIS” and because this system is used for the purpose of human resources than all records in the system should be excluded under the province’s access to information laws.
The Star’s position is that the substance of the information, not the system it is held in, is what is at issue.
“It is disappointing that the Toronto Parking Authority has chosen to hire lawyers to appeal what we believe to be a routine request for information that is in the public interest,” the Star wrote in its representations. “The argument advanced by the Toronto Parking Authority appears to be a very technical argument filled with legal mumbo jumbo.”
According to invoices for the law firm retained by the TPA, and obtained through a separate freedom of information request, the Star has determined the parking authority has spent at least $5,346 fighting the Star’s appeal. The invoices covered a period between March 2016 and February 2017.
This is not the first time parking authority executives have called in outside legal help to defend their actions.
After the auditor general began investigating the Finch Ave. West and Arrow Rd. land deal, the TPA retained the services of Toronto lawyer Gavin MacKenzie, who wrote a letter to council on behalf of the parking authority. The letter questioned the auditor’s report and also the actions of Councillor John Filion, who the auditor identified as a whistleblower.
The June 29 letter says MacKenzie was retained “to provide guidance in responding to an anticipated auditor general’s report regarding a real estate transaction” from October 2016.
The Star has requested an accounting of fees paid to MacKenzie.
The parking authority’s assets at the end of 2016 totaled $328 million, according to their audited financial statements. The TPA’s net income for 2016 totaled $59.6 million with a year-end balance of $294.8 million.
Author: Jayme Poisson, Jennifer Pagliaro