Opponents of Toronto's mayor are calling for apologies and the sacking of a Ford-controlled committee after a watchdog concluded the mayor's office meddled in the recruitment process for a slew of city boards.
Council will deal next week with a contentious new report from Toronto's ombudsman that found, among other allegations, Mr. Ford's staff asked bureaucrats to remove a line from newspaper advertisements seeking "diverse" candidates.
Mr. Ford disputed ombudsman Fiona Crean's findings.
"I didn't interfere in any process," he said Thursday. "I've actually cleaned up the process that we had before. It's a very clean and above-board, transparent process and it went very well."
The report describes how unnamed employees of the mayor's office meddled in the way the municipal government selects ordinary citizens to sit on some 120 boards, including those overseeing the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the Toronto Parking Authority, Toronto police and the public library system.
The mayor's office first asked for post-election recruitment to be postponed, then demanded it be condensed into such a short time-frame that candidates could not be screened properly, according to Ms. Crean.
The lax process nearly allowed a candidate with a serious conflict-of-interest to slip through, the report says.
"It will look to cynics as if the fix is already in for appointments and the process is just for show," an unnamed bureaucrat wrote to the city manager in a June 9, 2011, e-mail. "We now have a governance process that is no longer based on any recognizable principles."
The report found that the mayor's office directed that recruitment ads not be placed in the Toronto Star, a newspaper with which the mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, have a long-running feud.
"The [city manager's office] informed my investigator that when they raised this with the Mayor's staff, they were told that 'we do not like the Star,'" the report says.
The mayor's office denies it asked that the ad be kept out of the Star. In the end, recruitment advertisements appeared only in the National Post, Toronto Sun and Metro.
One of the goals of the city's appointments policy is to fill boards with qualified citizens of different genders and racial and ethnic backgrounds. The report suggests the mayor's office tried to undermine that objective.
"[City manager's office] staff informed my investigator that they were asked by the Mayor's Office to remove the statement in the advertisement that encouraged applicants from the City's diverse population to apply. Staff refused to do so," according to the report.
Mr. Ford said that was not true. "No, that's not what happened." Asked if he was against diversity, Mr. Ford laughed. "That's a ridiculous question."
According to a "diversity summary" of public appointments, 70 per cent of the citizens selected for boards under the Ford administration were white – the same percentage as in the second term of his predecessor, David Miller.
More men were tapped under Mr. Ford (70 per cent) than during Mr. Miller's second term (53 per cent).
Frances Nunziata, the council speaker and a Ford supporter, said the mayor's office did not tamper with her committee's choices. "I'm not aware of any interference or direction," she said.
That did not satisfy Councillor Adam Vaughan, a staunch critic of the mayor, who said current members of the committee should be fired at mid-term. "I just don't think they've done their jobs," he said.
Councillor Joe Mihevc plans to demand an apology from Mr. Ford at next week's council meeting. He is also seeking a "commitment to cease and desist on political interference on a go-forward basis."
- With a report from Elizabeth Church