A meeting that was requested and attended by Mayor Rob Ford and his brother between senior Toronto officials and a client of the family firm raises questions about conflict of interest and the use of public resources, city councillors say.
The mayor and Etobicoke Councillor Doug Ford called on three of the city's most senior managers to attend a meeting in North York in the summer of 2012 to discuss a sewage spill investigation, according to e-mails The Globe and Mail obtained through a Freedom of Information request. The spill had been traced to soap and shampoo maker Apollo Health and Beauty Care, which does business with the Fords' company, Deco Labels and Tags. Top city officials asked to attend the meeting say they were not informed of the firm's business ties with the mayor's family, which one described as an "obvious conflict."
City inspectors usually conduct such discussions of spills and how to prevent further incidents.
Councillor Adam Vaughan, a frequent critic of the Ford administration, said the case is "as close to being a conflict of interest as anything I've ever seen."
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a former ally of the Ford administration who is considering a run for mayor, called the meeting "another example of the mayor's bad judgment."
Mr. Vaughan said the case raises many questions, including whether Apollo's business rivals would get "the same fair treatment from the Fords and whether companies that are not a Deco client would get the same response. "If you break your relationship with Deco Labels, what happens then?" he asked.
Mr. Vaughan said that until an investigation is undertaken to find out whether any rules were broken, the case puts "everyone under a cloud of suspicion."
Councillor Doug Ford called the questions "a bunch of nonsense" on Thursday, saying "they had a complaint about water. We had the staff there. They did a great job. We never interfered. And they did all the proper channels."
He said, "I believe that the staff knew" about Deco's relationship with Apollo, but he did not provide specifics. "I didn't say I didn't tell them. Through conversations, I'm sure it came out. But again, within the meeting, it's totally transparent."
Mayor Ford was not available for an interview
In after-hours e-mails and phone calls from Aug. 14, 2012, Mayor Ford and his staffers, along with a staffer for Councillor Ford, contacted Toronto's top managers – including city manager Joe Pennachetti, deputy manager John Livey and the head of Toronto Water, Lou Di Gironimo. The e-mails were sent one day after bylaw inspectors descended on the North York site of Apollo Health and Beauty Care.
Mr. Pennachetti, Toronto's top bureaucrat, received a call from the mayor about the meeting, but could not attend. Mr. Livey, who did go, said he would have handled the situation differently had he known about the Ford's commercial interest in Apollo. "I would have raised that with [the mayor]. I would have raised that obvious conflict," he said.
Councillor Janet Davis said the incident shows the limits of current conflict-of-interest rules, which do not require disclosure in such circumstances. She said it also raises questions about the use of city staff by the mayor. "I think it's appropriate to examine what kind of staff resources the mayor can summon to deal with constituent issues," she said.
Councillor Ford said he and the mayor regularly call senior staff to deal with issues that are brought to their attention. "There's a pothole in someone's front driveway? Rob's calling the deputy city manager," he said.
Mr. Minnan-Wong questions such behaviour by the mayor. "He puts the public service in a very awkward position when he asks for these kinds of things," he said.
With a report from Greg McArthur