One week after Toronto Mayor Rob Ford testified under oath that he no longer uses taxpayer-funded staff and resources for football, fresh evidence has emerged that suggests he continues to do just that.
Mr. Ford appears to have relied on at least two mayor’s office employees and their taxpayer-funded cellphones to help administer the summer football teams he founded after winning Toronto’s top political job.
He has also hired Andrew Gillis, the former quarterback of the University of Toronto’s Varsity Blues football squad, to work as a “special assistant” in his office, The Globe and Mail has learned.
On Tuesday, Mr. Gillis’s day included donning a T-shirt and ball cap to help Mr. Ford lead the Don Bosco Eagles in a practice that started around 3:30 p.m. at the high-school team’s home field in Etobicoke.
Mr. Ford is famous for his devotion to football and to the oft-troubled teen players he says he is trying to keep in school through sport.
But that passion has landed Mr. Ford in trouble in the past, most recently in a conflict-of-interest legal hearing at which he testified he had learned his lesson about misusing city staff, letterhead and logos for his private football foundation.
“I did use my staff [for the football foundation] and I was wrong to do that ... that’s been rectified numerous years ago,” Mr. Ford told the Ontario Superior Court of Justice last week.
The problem may have been rectified in the case of the Rob Ford Football Foundation, but it appears to be an ongoing issue with the mayor’s volunteer coaching duties.
Two of Mr. Ford’s “special assistants” – Chris Fickel and Isaac Shirokoff – are listed as contacts on the official Facebook page for Mr. Ford’s Rexdale Raiders, whose varsity and junior varsity squads play summer football in the Ontario Minor Football League.
A city official confirmed the numbers that Mr. Fickel and Mr. Shirokoff list on the Raiders page are for city-issued, taxpayer-funded cellphones.
Mr. Shirokoff’s name and city number also appears on a Raiders recruitment flyer posted to the page.
“The Rexdale Raiders are going into their second season this summer in the OMFL! As head coach, Rob Ford focuses the team on developing fundamentals and advanced football skills, specific to each individual athlete,” the recruitment flyer reads. “Call to register: Isaac Shirokoff 416-873-8761.”
The flyer includes a private e-mail for Mr. Shirokoff, who recently left the mayor’s office to attend graduate school. He no longer uses that number and he did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment Tuesday.
Although an unnamed administrator answers most of the queries on the Raiders Facebook page, Mr. Fickel posted under his own name at least four times, usually with reminders or instructions for the players.
On July 19 at 2:04 p.m., Mr. Fickel wrote: “RAIDERS JR’S AND VARSITY: BE AT DON BOSCO FOR 5 PM, PRACTICE RUNS UNTIL 9. BIG PRACTICE BEFORE OUR BIG PLAYOFF GAMES IN NIAGARA, MUST ATTEND TONIGHT! If you have any questions contact Isaac 416-873-8761 or Chris 416-906-2135.”
On July 24 at 12:06 p.m., Mr. Fickel posted another practice reminder. “Varsity be at Bosco for practice tonight! 5-9, BE THERE!”
Reached by phone Tuesday and asked how much time he spends on football-related work, Mr. Fickel said: “I can’t comment on that.”
He referred all questions to George Christopoulos, the mayor’s press secretary. Mr. Christopoulos did not reply to repeated phone calls and e-mails seeking comment for this story.
Mr. Gillis, who finished his fifth and final season with the Varsity Blues last year, majored in urbanization, according to posts on the team’s website. He also could not be reached.
The “special assistants” in Mr. Ford’s office are the most junior members of his staff. Their taxpayer-funded salaries are too low to be revealed on the province’s annual sunshine list of public-sector employees who earn more than $100,000 per year.
Mr. Ford’s coaching responsibilities take up too much of the mayor’s time, according to critics who derided him as a “part-time” mayor for leaving a meeting of the council’s most important committee more than five hours early Monday to lead his Don Bosco Eagles in a pre-season game in Newmarket.
“The executive committee is the mayor’s committee and he has responsibilities to it,” said Councillor Adam Vaughan, a potential mayoral candidate.
“He’s not being paid to coach football, he’s not being paid to do anything other than being mayor by taxpayers.”
Mr. Ford defended his decision to depart early the way he often defends his football commitments – he said he does it for his needy young players.
“If I’m not there the kids don’t play,” Mr. Ford told reporters at a United Way event at Nathan Phillips Square Tuesday. “Very few times it conflicts with my schedule. That’s why I had to leave two hours before [the game.]”
Mr. Ford, who briefly played football for Carleton University, predicted during the 2010 campaign that he would have to give up his long-time coaching duties at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School if he won the mayor’s job.
After his election win he decided to keep coaching because, he said, he did not want to let his players down. He started the Rexdale Raiders summer teams in 2011, after becoming mayor.
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