Around 6:20 p.m. on the third day of council, Mayor Rob Ford spoke.
He didn’t expound on the city’s 2013 budget, launched that afternoon, or whether churches should pay to have the city collect their trash, which council discussed that morning.
He certainly didn’t talk to reporters, who had been chasing him in vain since his prepared remarks Tuesday apologizing “to everyone who believes I should have done this differently.”
Mr. Ford dive-tackled a proposal to support an office-residential-retail tower in Adam Vaughan’s downtown ward. City staff recommended rejecting the original proposal; Mr. Vaughan put forward a motion to support a revised version of the proposal which, among other things, would put $1-million into city coffers for infrastructure work in the neighbourhood.
The mayor was not impressed.
“It’s wrong for him to be asking developers for this money,” he said. “If staff says ‘no,’ and the local councillor jumps in and says, ‘Hold on, partner. Gimme a million dollars and we’ll put it through council,’ why have staff?”
Negotiations for the $1-million, as well as other concessions such as changes to the building design, were done under Section 37, a piece of provincial legislation that allows for the city to negotiate community benefits in exchange for more height or density in a development than would otherwise not be allowed. Both Mr. Ford and his brother, councillor Doug Ford, have criticized the process in the past, characterizing it as an unfair way to exact cash from developers.
“This is like a shakedown,” , although he later recanted somewhat. “I am more than happy to withdraw the word ‘shakedown,’” he allowed. “But asking developers to pay a million dollars and go against staff outright, that’s problematic.”
Momentarily, it appeared the old Councillor Rob Ford, known for his bombastic takedowns of his colleagues’ shortcomings, had returned to the council chambers – only this time in stereo.
“It is disgusting,” Councillor Doug Ford said, “We hire highly qualified staff right across the board here, paid by the taxpayers, and we have councillors negotiating with developers, in their own ward, the amount of money they’re going to get. … No councillor at all should be involved in negotiating monies with any developer in this city.
“That’s the reason I came down here: to stop the nonsense.”
Both Ford brothers suggested the idea of a councillor negotiating with developers on projects in his or her ward constituted a conflict of interest – an issue that’s become a touchy topic for the Mayor, who was found guilty of contravening the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act by a judge on Monday. Mr. Ford is appealing and has asked for a stay in the ruling, which would remove him from office.
The motion eventually passed, as did another development in Mr. Vaughan’s ward with which Mayor Ford had taken issue, albeit not before a council-wide shouting match – “Why don’t you shut up and sit down?” Doug Ford yelled across the room – that prompted a five-minute recess .
“You’re just a little upset!” Mr. Ford said when Mr. Vaughan challenged his familiarity with the file. “You’re trying to sneak something through, and you’re upset!”
Mr. Vaughan claims Mayor Ford has been targeting projects in his ward for added scrutiny. “The Mayor has found himself in trouble with his choice of words before,” Mr. Vaughan said, adding that conflict-of-interest allegations against him are “inaccurate, offensive and they’re wrong.”