In that innocent time of yesterday morning, Matt Elliott of Metro suggested that the Ford administration had reached “peak scandal”—meaning not that no more revolting revelations about the mayor and his conduct in office would emerge, but that they would cease to revolt the electorate any further than it has already been revolted. Those allergic to indiscretion, dishonesty, and incompetence are already in full-on Fordophalactic shock, those not gasping and wheezing and seeking an antidote already seem immune, so no higher dose will cause them the slightest discomfort:
Spelled out, the Mayor Rob Ford story is a complex tale of twists and turns, clashing personalities and a slow decline into a kind of political irrelevance. But the poll numbers tell a simpler story, of a mayor who came into power with a ton of popularity, lost a third of it almost immediately, and ever since has relied exclusively on bedrock support from a core group.
With Forum’s last poll going out on Sept. 10, we don’t have recent numbers—which would take into account all those allegations about the mayor’s football team and his enthusiastic war on the media. The football story could hurt his popularity a tad, because it makes him look hypocritical in a way that most of his other gaffes have not. On the other hand, painting himself as the victim of a vast media conspiracy could resonate with his base.
Either way, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his approval numbers once again at or around 42 per cent. As long as Rob Ford sits in the mayor’s chair, this song will remain the same.
Perhaps. And yet there is more. There is always more. Today, the Star reports on how the Mayor’s Director of Stakeholder and Councillor Relations—and one-time acting Chief of Staff—Earl Provost went to the province in March to ask them to slather $2.8 million in pork gravy onto Mayor Ford’s football project, making renovations to the field of Don Boscoe High School where the mayor is the founder of the football program and coach of the team:
Earl Provost, one of Mayor Rob Ford’s top advisors, personally urged Queen’s Park to help bankroll $2.8 million in renovations to Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School’s football facilities, the Star has learned. The unusual appeal for financial help for the football team coached by Ford was made on March 3 — a Saturday — and there was urgency to the request, sources say. [...]
Provost, as Ford’s director of stakeholder relations, made detailed demands for funding last winter. He noted the Rexdale high school needed:
• $953,233.89 for a football field
• $400,000 for bleachers
• $337,125 for a track
• $154,700 for lights
• $140,439.28 for miscellaneous bonds, insurance, and contingency funds
• $112,500 for paving, walls, and steps
• $80,929.12 for earthworks
• $41,800 for fencing
• $35,500 for an electric scoreboard
• $33,400 for “sport finishing”
• $24,800 for a drainage system
There was also $162,009.91 for consulting fees, geotechnical advice and testing, and $321,936.84 in HST.
This, of course, from a mayor who voted to refuse $350,000 in federal “free money” for gang prevention and $170,000 in “free money” provincial funding for public health nurses because, as he is fond of saying, “there’s only one taxpayer” and when the city accepts a few hundred thousand dollars from the province or federal government for programs that lonely taxpayer is getting screwed. But he’s willing to get out his set of Robertson red-handles and twist another couple million out of poor Mr. Taxpayer when it comes to the matter of his own personal football franchises.
But wait! There’s more! There’s always more. But this is a doozy. Yesterday, the city Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, released a report [PDF] on an investigation that concludes the mayor’s office compromised the integrity of the city’s appointments process. The 1,436 people appointed to the 120 agencies, boards and commissions in question oversee one-third of the city’s spending and manage 48% of the city’s staff, “and account for $15 billion in city assets,” according to Crean. And because of the direct and indirect actions of the mayor’s office, she reports, the process was compromised—a staffer in the City Manager’s office reportedly warned, in writing, “It will look to cynics as if the fix is already in for appointments and the process is just for show…We now have a governance process that is no longer based on any recognizable principles.”
You can read the entire report yourself, but here are some of the head-slapping moments:
The mayor’s office postponed the public appointments process because it wanted to focus on accelerating the budget, and as a result, not enough time was left to ensure the integrity of the process—the mayor’s office disregarded warnings about this from city staff:[Pg. 4] “The Mayor’s staff wrote to the City Manager’s Office on June 8,2011 to say that the proposed schedule was too long and directed staff to speed up the process by approximately two months. Staff from the City Clerk’s Office observed that this involvement in scheduling by the Mayor’s Office was “something new.” … The next day a member of the City Manager’s Office staff wrote an email to the City Manager listing the problems that would be caused by the accelerated schedule … On June 13, 2011, a member of the Mayor’s staff asked that the deadline for applications be extended by one week to July 11, in order to avoid the Canada Day weekend. This gave staff only one week to screen and evaluate applicants. For previous recruitments, staff had one month to vet and assess the applications.”
The mayor’s office allegedly specifically forbid city staff from advertising the appointments in the Toronto Star, apparently as a penalty for that paper’s unfriendly political coverage, and instead specified that government dollars should be funnelled to the friendlier editorial departments of the Toronto Sun and National Post—something that looks to this observer like a direct payoff using taxpayer money for friendly coverage:[pg. 24] CMO staff informed my investigator that they were directed by the Mayor’s staff on which publications to place the advertisements. They were not to be placed in the Toronto Star. CMO had concerns with that direction, given the Star has a diverse readership, the largest circulation in Toronto and the “best demographics”. The CMO informed my investigator that when they raised this with the Mayor’s staff, they were told that “we do not like the Star”. CMO staff expressed surprise by the direction from the Mayor’s staff but did not feel in a position to challenge or refuse it. The Mayor’s staff denied giving any such direction and did not recall telling staff not to advertise in a specific paper. There were several emails between the Mayor’s staff and the CMO and the CCO. On June 13, there was a request for a cost estimate for a one day ad in the Toronto Sun and National Post, which staff provided that day. The Mayor’s staff informed my investigator that quotes were asked for because the Mayor wanted to know how much was being spent. The CCO informed my investigator that the cost of advertisements came out of the City Clerk’s budget. The Mayor’s staff informed my investigator that costs for the Post and the Sun were requested and not the Star because staff had already provided an oral quote. The Mayor’s staff did not recall who had provided that quote. The CCO and the CMO informed my investigator that they did not provide the Mayor’s staff with a quote for the Toronto Star. On June 14, the Mayor’s staff asked about the size of the advertisement. Later that day, instructions were given for a quarter page ad to be placed in the Post on June 20 and June 25, and a half page ad in the Sun on June 20 and June 26.
The mayor’s office directed staff to remove a line about seeking diverse candidates from the ad. This was in direct contravention of city policy requiring that line to appear in the advertising: [pg. 25] CMO 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.
The mayor’s staff attended meetings and helped make up shortlists, in direct contravention of policies. The commission had to pass a specific resolution to allow them to stay in confidential meetings, and did so. The mayor’s staff had come to the meeting with lists of candidates marked “confidential”: [pg. 27] “The Mayor’s staff attended the July 18 meeting. Staff was there to observe the meeting in order to keep the Mayor informed. In response to a concern raised by a Councillor about political staff attending in-camera sessions of the Committee, it passed a motion to allow the Mayor’s staff to attend. The CCO observed that political staff attendance during Committee incamera sessions was “unusual” and that it had never happened before in their experience.”
Because staff did not have time to properly review the applications, there was huge potential for a conflict-of-interest shitshow. Everyone was essentially counting on applicants to declare their own conflicts and just leaving it at that. In one case, staff noticed that a guy about to be appointed to a board had a huge conflict, and regularly appeared before that board representing his business interests that were regulated by that board. The staff member had a hell of a time getting the politicians who were doing the appointing to understand that. Especially the “panel chair,” since revealed in the press to be Giorgio Mammoliti: [pg. 30] When the specific application came up for discussion on November 4, 2011, the program staff member informed the staff review team that the applicant had a potential conflict of interest. He told them that the applicant was known to be actively involved in the business over which the board had jurisdiction and had regularly appeared before the board acting as an agent. [...] During the Committee short-listing meeting on November 16, 2011, the applicant in question was nominated by the Panel Chair and the applicant was short-listed for interview. CMO did not provide any information about the applicant during the short-listing. [...] The following day, the program staff member wrote to the CMO and provided information about the applicant, saying that the division had had several dealings with the applicant about matters related to the adjudicative board. The Division staff was certain that the applicant continued to act as an agent, and that as a result, the applicant was not eligible and was in a possible conflict of interest. The program staff member also provided documents: a decision from the board showing the applicant as an agent, and a document from the internet showing that the applicant was a senior executive of a company engaged in a business related to the board’s jurisdiction. CMO staff met with the Panel Chair and relayed the information regarding the applicant’s eligibility and potential conflict of interest. CMO informed my investigator that the documents provided by the program staff were shown to the Panel Chair. [...pg. 31] The Panel Chair took the position that being an agent did not prevent the applicant from becoming a member of the board because that applicant could stop appearing before the board, just as a lawyer might if appointed to the board [...] Just before the candidate interviews, the nominating panel decided to delete two questions, including the question dealing with conflict of interest. … The panel forwarded its list of candidates to the Committee for recommendation to Council. The applicant in question was recommended by the panel to be Chair of the adjudicative board. [...pg. 32] During the meeting, CMO staff explained that the applicant was an agent before the board and outlined the conflict of interest issue. The Panel Chair asked CMO staff why the letter [detailing the conflict] he requested had not been provided. CMO said that the letter had not been written due to illnesson the part of the manager charged with the task. CMO added that the information had nevertheless been previously conveyed to the Panel Chair. My investigator was told by attendees that the Panel Chair interrupted CMO staff. He became “angry”, “upset” and “objected” to the information that CMO was providing. The Panel Chair questioned why so many staff were present, saying that they were “targeting” the applicant. The Panel Chair said that the applicant seemed to be the most qualified candidate. One panel member said he had rejected the applicant when he reviewed the application, showing his notes to the Committee. Another member expressed concern that the individual had stated on the application that they were not involved in matters related to the adjudicative board, when in fact the person had been. Attendees reported that the Panel Chair pointed at staff saying, “I’m going to get you.” He was reported to say in a raised voice that staff had other Councillors fooled, but not him. Some staff described the Panel Chair’s manner as “threatening”. One staff described the process as “gruelling and humiliating.” The Panel Chair informed my investigator that staff should have written the letter he had requested. [...] The Panel Chair stated that a staff member told him the applicant could not be Chair because of the conflict but perhaps they could “compromise” by allowing the person’s candidacy to stand as a member of the board. The Panel Chair could not recall who made this statement and no staff asked by my investigator confirmed saying this to him. The Committee decided not to recommend the applicant for appointment to the board.
Peak scandal indeed. That the mayor and his allies blew the report off yesterday is sickening and, I think, telling. I would not have a hard time believing that the mayor’s office and his allies screwed this up through sheer incompetence and incomprehension. But using that as a forgivable explanation requires embracing criticism, talking about learning from the experience, and committing to strong safeguards to prevent further corruption. When those things are missing from the response, it suggests this kind of thing could be less an accident and more a plan.
We now have a series of the same kinds of violations of the city’s anti-corruption guidelines, and the response is the same every time—denying a problem and blaming the messenger. If Ford is positioning himself as the anti-anti-corruption mayor, then that makes him pro- what, exactly?
PHOTO: STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR