A friend and former coaching associate of Rob Ford says allegations the mayor used office staffers for his community football work are unfairly targeting the mayor for his charitable efforts.
Ron Singer was responding to questions raised after the Globe and Mail reported office aides are helping with duties related to Ford’s football coaching, as evidenced by city-issued cellphone numbers appearing on recruitment material for his football programs.
The Globe report came a day after critics lambasted Ford for skipping out early on Monday’s executive committee, which he chairs, to coach a football game in Newmarket.
Singer, who hasn’t coached with the mayor in the past three years but is in frequent contact with him, said Ford’s staffers work long hours, so there should be no question as to whether any time devoted to football is volunteer.
Singer, who has unsuccessfully sought the Ward 15 Eglinton-Lawrence council seat in three elections, is a staunch Ford defender. The pair go back to more than a decade when together they coached football at Newtonbrook SS. This past June, Ford summoned a meeting with parks staff and a local councillor at Memorial Park, after Singer complained to him about the state of the playing field.
Calling Ford a “workaholic,” Singer said even if staffers from his office are “helping out” with Ford’s football-related responsibilities, “they probably start [city hall] work at 8 a.m., and leave at 11 p.m. at night.”
Singer said Ford is “not a perfect person” but should be commended for his devotion to helping kids from vulnerable communities.
Asked whether he thinks it appropriate the mayor left a standing committee long before work was complete on Monday, Singer said: “Oh, OK, he only worked nine hours city business instead of 12.”
Moreover, Singer questioned why no one had checked whether councillors are doing the same.
“If we went to every single councillor, would every single councillor be able to say, ‘Not one of my staff works on anything but city business and they don’t use their cellphones for anything but city business?’ ”
Longtime St. Paul’s councillor Joe Mihevc said the extent to which office staff are used for community building can be difficult to determine.
“You try to be of assistance to community agencies that are building the community and sometimes we sit on the boards too, so that’s all fine,” he said. “I guess the question becomes: when does it cross the line?
“If I asked my staff to go to the Wychwood Barns and work there almost every day, that would I think cross the line.”
Mihevc hesitated to say whether Ford’s use of office staff for football based on information from the Globe article is inappropriate.
“I’ll let the integrity commissioner figure that out, but it’s certainly irregular.”
Mihevc said he will not be filing a complaint with the integrity commissioner to determine whether Ford is violating any code of conduct.
Nevertheless, Mihevc says the current revelation regarding office staffers, coupled with Ford’s absence at executive committee “bespeaks of a failed sense of priorities.”
“He’s the mayor, life is not just football.”
A vocal critic, Mihevc says it is increasingly evident Ford is in the wrong job. In the years they were councillors together, Mihevc said Ford seemed only content when discussing football.
“If I was his vocational counsellor, I would say “Rob, take a job in football, do things that you love and let other people run the city.”
Meanwhile, the mayor issued a statement highlighting his staff as hard workers for the taxpayer, saying “They put in at least 40 hours of work for taxpayers every week. Often more.”
The statement did not address the allegation his staffers are using city-funded cellphones to conduct work outside city hall.
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