A request for road repairs outside Mayor Rob Ford’s family firm was fulfilled in less than three weeks and included a meeting at the Etobicoke site where Mr. Ford pointed out to city staff the work he wanted done.
The meeting at the head office of Deco Labels and Tags on Greensboro Drive took place on July 20, city staff have confirmed. It was followed 11 days later by a meeting in the mayor’s office with two senior city staff where Mr. Ford repeated his request that the unscheduled work be completed before the company’s 50th anniversary party, planned for the following week.
The work was finished before the Aug. 10 deadline and included repairs to a culvert adjacent to the Deco property, improvements to drainage and patching of potholes, which staff estimate cost the city between $7,000 and $10,000.
Repair requests usually come through the city’s 311 service or calls to the transportation department. Service standards specify the city respond to pothole complaints in a matter of days. The target for the completion of culvert reconstruction is a matter of weeks, said John Mende, the city’s acting general manager of transportation.
Staff from Toronto’s district road operations met with the mayor at Deco’s offices after being contacted by Mr. Ford’s staff, said Mr. Mende. He said he attended the second meeting in the mayor’s office along with deputy city manager John Livey. Staff frequently are asked by the mayor’s office to visit sites to respond to constituent concerns, Mr. Mende said.
Mr. Ford makes a habit of handing out his card to everyone he meets and offering his help, and is often there when they arrive, he said.
“We get those often,” Mr. Mende said when asked if the request sounded an alarm. “Staff are asked to attend a meeting. They comply.”
Peter Noehammer, a director who also worked on the file, said Thursday that in his 16 years in the city’s transportation department, he had never had an elected official ask him or his colleagues to expedite road work on personal or business property.
“No, I don’t recall where they were personally involved, no,” he said, adding that requests from councillors to fix up streets usually are made on behalf of constituents or Business Improvement Areas.
Mr. Ford, who returned Thursday from a trade mission in Chicago, refused to take questions on the meetings, taking a side door at the Toronto City Airport into a waiting car.
Press secretary George Christopoulos said Mr. Ford would make no further comments beyond a statement made to The Globe and Mail late Wednesday. That statement notes that Deco made requests to the city for road repairs “for a number of years” and confirmed a request to complete those repairs before the anniversary celebration.
The e-mailed statement also says: “It is also my understanding that the company was not afforded any extra service that city staff would not have provided to another company in similar circumstances.”
Both the city and the mayor’s office say Deco will pay for work done by the city’s contractor on company property.
Mr. Ford has recently faced questions about his use of city resources and staff to support the football teams he coaches. He also is awaiting a verdict on conflict-of-interest charges over his participation in a council debate and vote about fundraising for his football foundation.
These latest revelations have several of the mayor’s council colleagues questioning his actions and the speed at which the unscheduled work was done.
Councillor Josh Colle, a first-term centrist, said the mayor’s behaviour is frustrating because his constituents often face long waits for serious road repairs.
To illustrate his point, Mr. Colle plunked a freezer bag of gravel on his desk. Labelled “pieces of Blandford Street, Aug. 2, 2012,” the sack was sent to him by residents of the street near Oakwood Avenue and Rogers Road.
“We’re always pushing to get this work done and I know there’s a huge backlog, but [transportation] staff, in my experience, [are] pretty ardent and steadfast about not adding additional work that’s not been already included in the capital budget,” he said.
Centrist Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon said she would never make a personal request. “Under no circumstances would I personally ask for a project to jump the queue. It’s like what you learn in kindergarten about butting. It’s unfortunate.”
Councillor Adam Vaughan called the mayor's actions "extraordinary."
"This is a clear cut example of using your elected office for personal gain," he alleged.
Mike Del Grande, the budget chief, called it “much ado about nothing.”
“We get requests all the time from private companies and businesses as well. Pothole repair, in general, our standard is five days, so I don’t know where people get this idea … that it’s jumping the queue.”