City staff cited the protection of individual privacy as a reason not to disclose who asked for improvements outside Mayor Rob Ford’s family business, internal documents show.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford met with city staff at the north Etobicoke site in July to detail work he wanted done outside Deco Labels and Tags and followed up with a meeting in his office that included one of the city’s highest ranking officials, deputy city manager John Livey. But when inquiries were made this summer about roadwork on Greensboro Drive, speaking notes prepared by city communications staff said the details of the request could not be discussed because of the need to protect personal privacy.
Staff involved in preparing the notes have said they did not know it was the mayor who had made the request for the work to be done.
Documents obtained by The Globe and Mail through a freedom-of-information request show an inquiry from the Toronto Star in mid-August set off a flurry of internal e-mails and notes. Among them are two pages of talking points titled “Key Messages, Work taking place near Deco Labels,” which include a page labelled “additional answers from Strategic Communications.”
One of the questions anticipated by staff was who from Deco called the city to request the work. The suggested answer: “We have discussions with private citizens all the time. We have a duty to protect the privacy of these individuals as to our discussions with them.”
The memo also provided an answer if Mr. Livey’s name were to come up. Under the heading re: John Livey, it states, “There are always a lot of internal discussions that take place when projects are discussed. We’re not prepared to discuss these types of internal discussions.”
Mr. Livey told the Globe Tuesday he did not recall seeing the list of answers, but said he had expected Mr. Ford’s name would come out in an interview.
“No one was under any instructions to say that it wasn’t the mayor – nothing like that. Staff found themselves in an awkward position because of the situation of the mayor asking for it and they answered the questions truthfully,” he said.
Asked why the prepared answer did not state it was the mayor who asked for the unscheduled work, he responded: “I haven’t got an answer for you.”
Jackie DeSousa, the city’s director of communications, said she was away when her staff responded to the media request. John Mende, the head of transportation services who attended the meeting in the mayor’s office, also was away. His replacement, Peter Noehammer, the director of transportation responsible for the Scarborough district, did not know the details of the Deco request including who called, Ms. DeSousa said.
In advising Mr. Noehammer, Ms. DeSousa said communications staff asked him if he would ever divulge to the media who called him from a private company and he said no. “That’s why we helped formulate that response for him,” she said. “My information is only as good as the people who are telling me.”
Ms. DeSousa said she is not aware if there is a policy about disclosing requests made by the mayor or councillors.
Asked why staff felt the need to include an answer about Mr. Livey’s role in the work, she said, “Lots of staff discuss lots of things with the mayor’s office. We don’t normally give out all the names.”
Mr. Ford has characterized the work done outside his family’s office as patching potholes, calling anyone who accused him of queue-jumping “an outright liar.” Documents obtained by The Globe show the request went beyond potholes to cutting grass on provincial land, rebuilding culverts and removing nearby construction equipment from private property. At first, city staff responded that the timeline was too short to get all the work done, but that changed after Mr. Ford’s meeting with senior staff, documents show.
From the onset, senior staff in transportation services was aware the mayor personally had made the request. In an e-mail to senior staff sent hours after the meeting in the mayor’s office, Mr. Mende notes that Mr. Ford visited the Deco property the previous day and reported that the grass in a nearby lot was not yet cut. “I explained to the Mayor that this is MTO property and we probably had difficulty accessing this fenced-in area,” the message states.
The mayor’s office has declined to comment on the contents of the FOI documents, but Tuesday the mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, spoke on AM640 about The Globe’s findings. “I told Rob next year in the summer we will get our own grass cutters,” he said.
Responding to criticism that mayor, because of his position with the city, should not have become involved in the Deco request, the councillor said: “I don’t disagree. It should be handled differently.”