Mayor Rob Ford loves coaching and his football program helps troubled youth. Why can’t he miss a few meetings to keep it going? Why shouldn’t he enlist his staff to help?
Before letting the mayor off the hook for slipping away from city hall to coach and taking city staffers along with him, remember this. Rob Ford built his political career on scrutinizing the use of taxpayers’ money. Again and again in his 10-year run as a city councillor, he roasted other councillors for playing fast and loose with their office budgets and staff. He even went after them for serving sandwiches at evening council meetings.
His whole “stop the gravy train” movement was focused on the mishandling of public resources by fellow councillors. Tightened rules brought in since he became mayor forbid councillors from using their expense money to sponsor community groups of any kind.
If he himself has been using publicly paid staff for a private pursuit, however laudable, then he has some explaining to do. The Code of Conduct for city council says that “No member of council should use, or permit the use of city land, facilities, equipment, supplies, services, staff or other resources ... for activities other than the business of the corporation” – that is, the City of Toronto.
There is a good and obvious reason for that. City staff are paid to do city business, nothing else. Respect for taxpayers, to borrow a phrase, demands it.
It’s not like there’s nothing to do in Mr. Ford’s pared-down office, where staff has been reduced to demonstrate his thrift. And who does Mr. Ford hire as a “special assistant” in that office? A young man who just happens to be a former university football quarterback. There he was on Monday afternoon, standing on the field with a pigskin under his arm as the mayor led the Don Bosco Eagles through a practice.
The mayor’s office says that its staff “are selected for their jobs based on their skills, experience, education and commitment to making Toronto a better city.” Apparently a good spiral doesn’t hurt either.
Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother, insists that staff have been volunteering their time with the team. In the middle of a weekday afternoon? When Mr. Ford left city hall early to coach on Monday, he was in the midst of chairing a meeting of the executive committee, the second-highest decision-making body after city council itself.
If councillors or mayors can use their staff to work on their personal causes, where does it end? What would Mr. Ford have said, you have to wonder, if his predecessor David Miller had roped in his city-paid staff to help his private foundation promoting, say, green roofs.
Mr. Ford has been told this sort of thing is offside. Back in 2010, before he was mayor, the city’s Integrity Commissioner found that he and his staff had been running his football foundation out of his city hall office – an improper use of city resources.A report by the commissioner in August, 2010, reminded him that a sports charity is not “a City of Toronto sponsored initiative. Therefore, I conclude that Councillor Ford improperly used City resources in that his staff salaries are paid for by the City of Toronto and the office is provided to him as a resource to Councillors.”
Mr. Ford must know that using his staff to help run his football team is no different than using them to run his football charity. Yet he brushes off all criticism as sour grapes. “I’m okay if councillors want to criticize me for helping kids. That’s their right,” he said in a statement.
Of course, no one is criticizing him for helping kids. They’re criticizing him for borrowing city staff to help run a football team, taking them away from the duties they are paid to perform on behalf of – that’s right – taxpayers.