Did Mayor Rob Ford know what he was doing when he allegedly used city resources to seek donations for his own foundation?
Lawyer Clayton Ruby believes that the mayor did and that he was in direct violation of the Municipal Conflict-of-Interest Act. The act prevents councilors from speaking on issues that financially benefit them.
Next week the courts will decide if Ruby is correct. For Mayor Ford that decision is career life or death.
As reported earlier this year what is in question is an incident from March 2010, just 6 days prior to Ford announcing that he was running for mayor of Toronto. On that date City Councillor Rob Ford sent out a letter using his City of Toronto letterhead asking for donations for the Rob Ford Football Foundation.
On May 4, 2010 one of the recipients who received a donation request filed a complaint with the City's Integrity Commissioner, Janet Leiper.
On August 12, 2010 the Integrity Commission found that Ford had breached the city council's code of conduct. She recommended that Ford reimburse those donations, a total of $3,150, as a penalty for his infraction.
On August 25, 2010 the City Council voted to accept the findings of the Integrity Commissioner and imposed the penalty.
On January 30, 2012 after several attempts to get Ford to comply with the city council's decision the Integrity Commission released a report to the council updating them on the matter. She recommended to the council to ask Ford to provide proof of reimbursement within a month.
The matter was brought up at council on February 7, 2012. After a debate that lasted for over an hour, including a speech made by Mayor Ford, the council voted to rescind its original decision on the code-of-conduct violations. The motion to rescind the decision was 22 in favor, 12 voting against and 11 members of council absent. Rob Ford was one of those who voted on the motion.
On June 28 Ruby cross examined Mayor Ford at a Toronto law office. Ford claimed that he was unaware that he could seek legal counsel when he was subject of an integrity commissioner investigation. That information is included in the city council handbook given to members of city government when they are elected.
Ford also claimed that his foundation is for the kids and not for his political gain. This is despite the fact that he poses for photo ops as Mayor of Toronto for the foundation. That claim should be the one that Ruby explores. The mailing list for donors for the foundation is the same mailing list that was used by Ford for an event that was to celebrate his tenth year in politics. This is the same event that Ford announced that he was running for mayor.
"I know of two people in my ward who had no prior connection to Rob Ford. They both received a letter to donate to his foundation and then shortly after an invitation to the political event," City Councillor Adam Vaughan said during a phone interview.
Vaughan said that the city councilor handbook is delivered to councilors offices on their first day in service.
"The handbook was on my desk when I arrived," Vaughan said seriously. He added that Ford has used that same handbook and the rules against conflict of interest for during allegations of other city councilors.
"He can't file claims against others and not know the rules," Vaughan stressed, "It simply defies logic."
Vaughan is not the only city councilor who confirms this. Shelley Carroll said during a phone interview that when a new city councilor goes into office they attend a two hour session of orientation where this very issue is discussed thoroughly. Not only does this happen but at the beginning of each tern a new handbook is delivered to councilors. This handbook Carroll says is written in plain terms. "It's like Code of Conduct for Dummies, it's very easy to understand. While the code itself is written in legalese the handbook is clear and concise."
Not only is the code of conduct covered Carroll understands the issues of charity versus public office. She had run a charity fundraiser prior to her term in city government as had Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti . Both had to withdraw from their charities so that there would be no breach with conflict of interest. "It's about making sure that the public is not being taken advantage of," Carroll explained. When a large sponsor of a charity is up for a bid with city government it is a breach of interest if you run a charity that they donate to. "There is no way for Ford to come across as not knowing this," Carroll continued, "He was in chambers when this was discussed."
Carroll also knows of people in her ward and in her parent's neighbourhood who received donation requests for Ford's foundation and then invitations to the announcement event and mayoral fundraisers.
"The mailing list can not be a list for donors and for politics," Carroll said firmly.
At this time Vaughan said there are no plans on what will take place if the judge says Ford is no longer the mayor. Carroll agreed with Vaughan that there has been no plan of action discussed at this time if the judge rules against Mayor Ford.
"We know what our options are but it has never been put to the test, this has never before happened in Toronto. A special session will have to be called very quickly and there will be a whole lot of things to address," Carroll said. While this has not happened before in Toronto our mayor was recently in hospital. "When Ford was sick there was a time that no one knew who the acting mayor was. We didn't know what condition the mayor was in or if he was unable to perform his duties."
Carroll says that with the court date approaching she is able to sleep at night because Toronto has a very able deputy mayor and city clerk that are seasoned professionals.
"I know that they will be prepared," Carroll said as the interview ended, "We have a full staff of professionals looking out for the best interest of Toronto with years of experience."