September 12, 2012
T.O. Mayor Ford's staff 'volunteering' at football
By Don Peat, QMI Agency
TORONTO — Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is on the defensive over accusations he's used his taxpayer-funded staff and the resources of the mayor's office to help run his football activities.
A story published in the Globe and Mail Wednesday alleged mayor's office staffers are helping Ford coach his high school football team, the Don Bosco Eagles, and his summer football team, the Rexdale Raiders.
"I'm okay if councillors want to criticize me for helping kids. That's their right," Ford said in a statement Wednesday. "I'm a big guy and I can take it.
"However, councillors should not be criticizing my staff. Each and every one of them works hard every day for the taxpayers of this great city. They put in at least 40 hours of work for taxpayers every week. Often more.
"Only a coward would criticize my staff. They can't defend themselves in the media against elected officials."
The statement went on to argue Ford, as mayor, is accompanied by one or more staff members at most times to help him in his "official duties."
"Staff in the mayor's office are selected for their jobs based on their skills, experience, education and commitment to making Toronto a better city," the statement added.
Coun. Doug Ford slammed the Globe story as "gutter journalism at its best".
"This is lazy journalism," Ford told QMI Agency.
Ford claimed the mayor's staffers spotted on the football field volunteer their time after putting in a 40-hour work week.
"He doesn't force his staff to go play football," Ford said. "They're volunteering their time."
The outspoken councillor stressed the football programs the mayor runs help around 400 kids a year.
"These are kids that come from high priority neighbourhoods," he said.
The Globe story comes a day after Mayor Ford admitted he left Monday's executive committee more than five hours early because his high school team was playing a scrimmage against another team at 4:30 p.m. in Newmarket, north of Toronto.
"If I'm not there the kids don't play," Ford told reporters Tuesday. "Very few times does it conflict with my schedule so that's why I have to leave two hours before."
The Facebook page for the Rexdale Raiders has references to mayor's office staff.
Players are encouraged to call Isaac Shirokoff for more information and then provided with the number for the cellphone furnished by the mayor's office. Office expenses for the mayor's office show Shirokoff's cellphone is paid for with tax dollars.
A team picture posted on the same Facebook page shows Shirokoff, who recently left the mayor's office, and Chris Fickel, another mayor's office employee, sitting in the front row of the team.
Ford has been in hot water already this year for mixing private business and taxpayer-funded phone lines.
Back in March, Ford apologized for going on the radio and encouraging those interested in joining a pro-Ford slate in the 2014 election to call his office line.
Coun. Adam Vaughan blasted the mayor as a "hypocrite."
"When he came into office the gravy train included councillors using their office budgets to sponsor and support sports teams," Vaughan said. "The first thing he did was put (Deputy Mayor) Doug Holyday on a task force to eliminate that opportunity for politicians.
"It's hypocritical. If it is wrong to sponsor a sports team with your office budget that is supposed to be used to help constituents, then it is wrong to use your staff to run a football team, period."
Vaughan dismissed the claim the staffers are volunteering their time.
"With a city-supplied cellphone?" he asked. "It just strains credibility beyond the point which it has already been strained. He is using city resources to build his profile by supporting kids sports teams."
Coun. Ford fired back at Vaughan.
"He's the biggest hypocrite that God ever created," Ford said.
The code of conduct for members of council spells out that no member of council should use or permit the use of city land, facilities, equipment, supplies, services, staff, council office budgets or other resources "for activities other than the business of the corporation."
Toronto integrity commissioner Janet Leiper could take a dim view of the case if a resident or councillor makes a complaint to her office.
Coun. Josh Colle said the mayor shouldn't be using taxpayer-funded staff to work on his football team.
"It's always tough to know if people are volunteering outside of their work hours," Colle said. "But certainly (he) shouldn't be using taxpayer-funded staff or resources for these efforts."
Colle stopped short of calling for an integrity commissioner investigation.
"I'm not going to ask for one," he said. "I think my biggest concern is that there is another distraction. We've got half a term left and tonne of work to do."