Two political adversaries came close to blows at city council Wednesday morning over accusations that a report from the ombudsman was “politically driven.”
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, a close ally of Mayor Rob Ford, levelled the charge in connection to the watchdog’s findings that the mayor’s office meddled in the recruiting of citizens to a number of city boards.
Mr. Ford has disputed ombudsman Fiona Crean’s findings.
The ombudsman’s report also accuses a male city councillor of lashing out at bureaucrats, saying “I’m going to get you,” during a closed-door meeting of the civic appointments committee last January.
Although the report does not name Mr. Mammoliti, he was the nominating chair of the panel the ombudsman referred to in a section of her report. Mr. Mammoliti denied in an interview last week that he ever said, “I’m going to get you” to city staff.
Ms. Crean’s report will be considered by council Thursday morning. She will answer questions from councillors on her findings.
On Wednesday, councillors debated when to hear from her.
Mr. Mammoliti referred to her findings as “politically driven” during that discussion and refused a request for an apology, asking what he was supposed to apologize for. As councillors called for his ejection, he volunteered to go. However, he stayed in the chamber to talk to reporters after leaving the council floor.
Mr. Mammoliti was standing at the back of the chamber ringed by TV cameras and reporters when Councillor Gord Perks stepped between him and the microphones.
“Shame on you. Get out of this chamber,” Mr. Perks demanded, standing nose to nose with Mr. Mammoliti. “You are a bully. You are trying to destroy the public service in this city.”
“I will defend myself if you keep touching me. Don’t touch me,” Mr. Mammoliti replied. Adding later, “Please get away from my space. I am asking nicely.”
Mr. Mammoliti asked to see the mandate of the ombudsman. The report, he said, “seems to be driven towards the mayor of the City of Toronto.”
“We need to read the report. We need to ask questions of the report and if there is any political slant to that report at all, we need to ask whether the ombudsman actually has the mandate to do that,” he said.
Mr. Mammoliti also charged that the report was based on “hearsay.”
Speaking in her defence, Ms. Crean told reporters that her findings are based on evidence given by 40 witnesses under oath. “That’s not hearsay,” she said.
Ms. Crean said she did not feel bullied. When asked if the councillor's remarks were an attempt at intimidation, she replied, “Sure, but I’m not intimidated by this.”
Following a break for lunch, Mr. Mammoliti addressed council, saying that when he described the report as politically driven, he was referring to some of the interviews done as part of it.
“At no time did I intend to say that the ombudsman was politically driven,” he said.
“If anyone has taken that out of context, then I apologize.”
Mr. Mammoliti later told reporters he thought Mr. Perks could benefit from anger management counselling.
Mr. Perks said he could not stand by while Mr. Mammoliti addressed reporters.
“I didn’t get physical. I didn’t touch Councillor Mammoliti,” he said to reporters. “If Councillor Mammoliti is going to stand in front of council, in front of the media and mislead people about the fantastic public service that we have, somebody has to stand up to him and tell him no…It’s time to draw the line.”
Mr. Perks later expressed regret over his actions. “I want to apologize to Councillor Mammoliti and all the members of this chamber,” he said.
The confrontation came the same day as the city’s chief financial officer garnered a standing ovation for an emotional farewell speech.
Cam Weldon, who will retire at the end of month, had some parting advice for councillors.
“You need to be nicer to each other when I’m gone. You’ll accomplish more, you’ll live longer and you’ll retire happy like me,” he said.
With a report from Kelly Grant