Mayor Rob Ford’s office destroyed documents pertaining to the specially embossed business cards procured for the mayor and his staff from his family-owned company Deco Labels and Tags, according to a document obtained by The Globe and Mail.
In late March, Deco sent him an invoice for 20,600 business cards produced at a cost of $1,579.15. After the invoice became public in October, the mayor’s office produced documents indicating that his office had sought two other quotes before selecting Deco as the low-cost supplier. The two companies quoted the mayor’s office rates much higher than Deco’s, the documents said, but the names of the competing firms had been redacted. (Mr. Ford has since reimbursed the city $4,000 to cover the cost of the cards and other office expenses.)
When a subsequent access to information request was made, a letter from the city clerk’s office said that the mayor’s office had destroyed documents relating to the competitive quotes after deeming them “transitory.” According to Toronto’s Municipal Code, transitory records are considered insignificant or unrelated to city business. The letter from the clerk’s office cites a policy that says the city does not require competitive bids for purchases under $3,000.
When asked why the documents were considered “transitory” and who made the decision, Mr. Ford’s office declined to comment.
The mayor has long been an advocate of transparent competitive bidding and has frequently criticized city staff for relying on unreported sole source tenders.
However, the revelations come at a time when Integrity Commissioner Janet Leiper is investigating allegations from Toronto resident Jude MacDonald that Mr. Ford has not adequately disclosed his office expenses, including those paid out of his own pocket.
Municipal lawyer and lobbyist Nicholas dePencier Wright, who recently provided a legal opinion to councillors on the proposed shark fin ban, said it is not clear whether the business-card documents could be considered transitory.
Mr. dePencier Wright acknowledged the city policy on small purchases, but added, “In this case, because there was a freedom of information request made of the documents and because there was a possibility for the perception of a conflict of interest using a family company, I think it would be responsible to take a more cautious approach.”
Councillor Shelley Carroll (Don Valley East), a strong critic of the mayor, also challenged the mayor’s office. “It’s simply not a defence for destroying the records,” she said, referring to the “transitory” designation. “In this age of accountability, nothing financial is transitory.
“It doesn’t matter which pocket it came out of. If it’s the business of representing the public, you keep records,” Ms. Carroll said.
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, however, defended the mayor’s office questioning how long such documents should be kept. “There's only so much room in this building for us to store things” Mr. Holyday said. “There are some things that you must keep and some things that you absolutely need, and I don't know that there's a lot of room around here for other things that could be discarded.”
In an interview, Ms. MacDonald said the destruction of the other bids indicated a lack of transparency.
She is also filing further concerns with Ms. Leiper after obtaining an early version of one of Mr. Ford’s business cards that appears to have been printed prior to the late-March invoice issued by Deco Labels and Tags. That version, which features gold metallic embossed type, included a small typo – “Bloot St.” is printed in tiny lettering on a ward map on the back – which attracted some tongue-in-cheek coverage in the National Post last March.
On cards printed subsequently, the typo has been corrected.
In response to a Globe and Mail access to information request for all documents relating to mayor’s office supplies provided by Deco, Mr. Ford’s staff only released a single printer’s invoice.
“We have one invoice, [but]two cards,” Ms. MacDonald said. “If this card was generated at the beginning of the first quarter [of 2011] an invoice should be associated with it.”
Controversy over Mr. Ford’s reliance on the family business as a supplier of printed material pre-dates recent revelations. A 2007 auditor general and integrity commissioner’s report noted that Mr. Ford, then a city councillor, stocked his office with letterhead and business cards purchased from Deco in 2001.
The report cited Deco president and now-councillor Doug Ford as saying any materials were provided at market rates.
Special to the Globe and Mail, with files from John Lorinc