Ford allies refuse to move meeting from Jewish holiday


Rob Ford’s allies are being accused of punishing a disobedient councillor by refusing his request to reschedule a meeting that conflicts with a Jewish holiday.

Councillor James Pasternak, who is devoutly religious, cannot attend a budget committee meeting on May 28 because it falls on Shavuot, a holy day that is currently not recognized on the city’s calendar. At council on Wednesday he co-sponsored a motion by Councillor Josh Colle that would have amended the calendar to include the holiday, but it was voted down, with the mayor, his brother, and his closest allies opposing it.

Pasternak’s request will now be considered by a committee instead, but not in time to change the budget meeting later this month, and he says he won’t attend.

Since being appointed to the budget committee in April, Pasternak has threatened to cause the Ford administration a serious headache by attempting to reverse a series of service cuts in the 2012 budget. Some of are accusing Ford loyalists of retaliating by forcing him to choose between his religious beliefs and his official duties.

“It is my sense that people were actually instructed to put this off. This vote was whipped,” said Councillor Shelley Carroll, a frequent critic of the mayor. She went so far as to accuse Ford’s allies of violating the city’s human rights policy.

Pressed on whether she was willing to make such a serious charge, Carroll did not back down.

“I am making that accusation. Prove me wrong,” she said.

However, the motion, which fell just short of the two-thirds majority required to go straight to council, would not have been blocked without the votes of a handful of councillors who routinely oppose the mayor. At least one of them, Councillor Maria Augimeri, said she hadn’t been properly briefed on the issue and regretted her vote.

While the motion would have permanently amended the city’s calendar of religious holidays, council approval isn’t needed to move the May 28 meeting to another date.

According to council’s procedural bylaws, as committee chair Councillor Mike Del Grande has the authority to unilaterally cancel and reschedule any budget meeting. Pasternak approached Del Grande before Wednesday’s council session and asked him to do so but the budget chief, a close Ford ally, said staff could not find another appropriate date, although a second meeting in September will be changed because it falls on Rosh Hashanah.

“As soon as he put in the request, I sent it to staff and said, can you accommodate that?” Del Grande told reporters on Wednesday. “I don’t juggle the dates, staff do that. They came back and said they can only accommodate one [meeting change].”

Del Grande said he voted to refer Pastnerak’s motion to committee because changing the city’s list of holidays could have wide-reaching scheduling impacts that require more consideration, and he flatly denied that he was carrying out a vendetta.

“Why wouldn’t I try to accommodate the members of the committee?” Del Grande asked. “What advantage is there to not accommodate somebody?”

Pasternak says he doesn’t think the vote was a deliberate attempt to keep him from the meeting, but admits his actions on the committee haven’t won him any friends in Ford’s camp.

“You look at the [councillors who voted against me], and I don’t think I’m in the good books in some of those,” he said Wednesday.

“I thought this was a no-brainer. Something that was bureaucratic, a clerical function. I’m obviously quite surprised and a bit disappointed… I would have appreciated the support of the administration on this one.”



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