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Fords’ intervention in sewage spill probe called ‘obvious conflict’

The Ford family business, Deco Labels and Tags, has manufactured labels for Apollo’s cosmetic products.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Mayor Rob Ford and Councillor Doug Ford summoned the highest levels of the city's bureaucracy to a meeting after they learned a Toronto company that has done business with their family firm was the prime suspect in a sewage spill investigation, newly released records show.

In a series of 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, as well as the head of Toronto Water, Lou Di Gironimo – after bylaw inspectors descended on Apollo Health and Beauty Care, a manufacturer of soaps and shampoos. The Ford family business, Deco Labels and Tags, has manufactured labels for Apollo's products.

None of the senior bureaucrats were made aware that Apollo has contracted Deco Labels and Tags to make their labels, city officials said in interviews.

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Mr. Livey, one of the city's top bureaucrats who attended the meeting at the factory two days after the inspection, said he would have handled the situation differently had he known about the Ford brothers' commercial interest in Apollo. "I would have raised that with [the mayor]. I would have raised that obvious conflict," he said.

The seven pages of e-mails, which were released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that the mayor's office responded to the Aug. 13, 2012, inspection at Apollo with intense interest: Mayor Ford phoned Mr. Pennachetti; Earl Provost, one of Mr. Ford's aides at the time, e-mailed Mr. Livey, as well as Mr. Di Gironimo, and told them that the mayor wanted to meet with "one or both" of them at the cosmetics factory the next day; one of Doug Ford's assistants at the time, Amin Massoudi, e-mailed one of the mayor's executive assistants and told him that Mayor Ford wanted to "make sure" Mr. Pennachetti and two senior Toronto water officials were "all there" for the meeting at the factory.

On Aug. 15, three senior Toronto bureaucrats – Mr. Livey, Mr. Di Gironimo and Joanne Di Caro, the head of the division that responds to environmental spills – met with Apollo's chairman, Richard Wachsberg, along with Mayor Ford, Doug Ford and the city inspector who first traced the spill back to the company, records show. The North York factory is not in Councillor Ford's ward.

A spokesman for the mayor declined to respond to a list of questions. Mr. Wachsberg also declined to respond. Doug Ford said that he was "transparent" and that it wasn't necessary to tell any of the city officials about his commercial relationship with Apollo. "There's no conflict," he said.

"[Apollo] had an issue. We brought [the city staffers] there. Rob and I basically stood silent, just sat there and they corrected the problem," he said. "They're employing 500 people over there. The guy needs help, we're showing up there. If Joe's Smoke Shop needs help, we show up there."

However, a summary of the Aug. 15 meeting, which was written by a city inspector, shows that the mayor had several questions for city staff. The mayor questioned why staff didn't "notify Apollo before they moved here" about the issues they might face with their effluent, the summary states. Mayor Ford also questioned why the spills weren't "happening all the time" given that the company opened two months earlier and hadn't changed their processes, the summary states.

There is nothing in the law that requires the Fords to publicly disclose the identity of their clients. The Municipal Conflict of Interest Act only applies to the conduct of elected officials within official council meetings, and not to their outside activities as a councillor.

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Long before Mayor Ford became the target of a highly-publicized police investigation and admitted to having smoked crack cocaine, he was also dogged by accusations that he has frequently used city resources to benefit his personal life. Most famously, he was sanctioned for using City of Toronto letterhead to solicit funds for his football charity, and then nearly forced out of office after he voted on a motion about whether he should have to repay the funds. Many members of his staff have spent time working with the high-school football team he used to coach, and several former staffers alleged in interviews with police that they were also dispatched to purchase alcohol for the mayor. In the summer of 2012, the mayor also called upon senior bureaucrats to pave and beautify the area outside Deco Labels and Tags in advance of the company's 50th anniversary.

As for the sewage spill, city inspectors first became aware of the problem on Aug. 13, 2012, after a citizen noticed foam spilling out of a manhole in Earl Bales Park, said Mr. Di Gironimo, the head of Toronto's water operations. Inspectors traced the effluent through five kilometres of sewer pipe back to Apollo, which had opened its Toronto plant two months earlier, Mr. Di Gironimo said. It was only after the bylaw inspectors set up a meeting with Apollo's management team to discuss the spill – a meeting that Ms. Di Caro described as "standard procedure" in an e-mail – that Councillor Ford and Mayor Ford inserted themselves into the meeting and called upon the upper echelons of the city bureaucracy to join in.

Doug Ford said that there was nothing unusual about the mayor wrangling together so many of the city's top bureaucrats for such a meeting. "Rob brings every top staffer – and it is known throughout the city – someone has a pothole to be fixed, he's calling John Livey."

In an interview, Mr. Livey said: "I've been out on other small issues. Never one of that nature." Mr. Di Gironimo described the involvement of so many top officials as "rare but not unusual."

Since the spill and the meeting, Apollo has co-operated extensively with the city to improve how it treats its discharge and is participating in a compliance program, Mr. Di Gironimo said. He stressed that city officials want to work with businesses, especially new businesses, so that they can comply with the city's sewer bylaws rather than have staff automatically take an adversarial approach to policing the sewers. Apollo has not been fined.

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