When Toronto Mayor Rob Ford met with city staff at his family’s business on a Friday afternoon in late July, he came with a list of requests that went beyond patching potholes – to cutting grass, rebuilding culverts and removing nearby construction equipment – to beautify the area within three weeks for Deco Labels and Tags’ 50th anniversary party.
At first, city staff responded that the timeline was too short to get all the work done, documents obtained by The Globe and Mail under a freedom of information request show.
Eleven days later, Mr. Ford called a second meeting, this time in his office with two senior city staff. Notes and e-mails from the days that followed show more than a dozen city employees at the supervisor level or higher were involved in making the mayor’s request happen.
Staff efforts included crawling under a backhoe on private land to find its registration and visiting its owner’s home twice to ask for the machine’s removal, placing “emergency” requests to locate buried utility lines so that the culverts could be dug up on short notice, and cutting grass on provincial land.
“I realize the difficulty and challenges this creates,” the acting general manager of transportation services, John Mende, said outlining the mayor’s requests in an e-mail to four senior staff that he sent a few hours after attending the meeting in Mr. Ford’s office on July 31.
“Please do whatever you can to make all this happen before Aug.10. If there are problems or roadblocks, please let me know ASAP.”
The mayor’s office was informed about the contents of the documents released under the FOI request last week, but did not comment.
Mr. Ford, responding last month to a report in The Globe and Mail about the unscheduled roadwork on Greensboro Drive, characterized it as a request to patch potholes, calling anyone who accused him of queue-jumping “an outright liar.”
“Deco didn’t get any preferential treatment,” Mr. Ford said.
“Potholes should be fixed in the city between three and five days. We waited three to four years.”
Deputy city manager John Livey, who, along with Mr. Mende, was at the meeting in the mayor’s office, said in an interview that city staff were asked “not to do anything out of the norm.”
“We don’t have many 50-year-old industrial manufacturing businesses in town and they had an event, so we tried to accommodate them,” he said when asked about the documents.
Asked if he was worried about the optics of staff actions after his meeting with the mayor, “You have to be,” he said.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the public works committee and an ally of Mr. Ford, said all members of council need to “exercise good judgment” and think about how requests are received by city staff and how they look to the public.
“I just think this was bad judgment,” he said after reviewing the documents with senior staff. “It was inappropriate for the mayor to involve himself.”
Mr. Minnan-Wong said he made his views known to the mayor last month after The Globe and Mail first reported on the roadwork outside Deco. “I suggested to the mayor that he needs to separate any business interests that he has from his role as mayor of the city.”
Here is what documents show:
- City staff met Mr. Ford at Deco’s north Etobicoke office on July 20 after receiving a request that morning from his office. Five issues were raised, according to a staff memo, and a deadline of Aug. 10 given. Two requests – minor road and shoulder repairs and boulevard cleanup and grass cutting – were listed as jobs staff could do in time, although it was later discovered the grass was on Ministry of Transportation land. Three requests posed problems.
- Documents state the mayor wanted a storage trailer and backhoe at the end of the street removed. The equipment had no licence plates, and staff advised it would take four to five weeks for bylaw officers to remove it. Further investigation showed both were on private land, meaning, one e-mail states, staff did not “have authority to force the matter.” A later memo says staff found the vehicle identification number “by crawling under the equipment.” They used that to track down and visit the home of the owner on Aug. 6 and 7. The equipment was gone by Aug. 8, but a staff note cautions “the owner is well within his rights to return it to its original location which is on private land.” The identity of the owner was redacted from the documents.
- Mr. Ford also requested rebuilding a catch basin retaining wall, work that city staff could do, but would require two weeks to get the locations of utilities before digging could begin. A widely distributed e-mail states the this could be done faster only if the city called for “emergency stakeouts” of the utility locations.
- A final request, to replace the culverts and do work on three driveways, also presented problems for staff, who advised that the mayor could get a private contractor to do the work, or have it done by the city later this year or next. In the end, the city did the work, using its own contractor, who had been hired separately by Deco to work on its parking lot. The cost of the work, about $30,000, was divided between the city and Deco, with the mayor covering two-thirds of the price, documents show.
The Deco party was delayed to Aug. 24 because of the mayor’s health, and all work was completed before that date. The last roll of sod went down on Aug. 22.
“You guys did a great job. Thanks very much,” says a message to senior staff from Mr. Mende the same day.