Cheol Joon Baek
Councillors are calling on Rob Ford to scale back his work with his football foundation, following reports that he is still asking lobbyists for donations even though similar conduct nearly cost him his job last year.
On Thursday the Toronto Star reported that at least two lobbyists recently received signed letters from the mayor asking them to donate to the Rob Ford Football Foundation. One of the letters was received on January 28, mere days after a court overturned his earlier conviction on a conflict of interest charge.
That charge stemmed from Ford's participation in a council vote about his improper solicitation of donations from lobbyists, a violation of council's code of conduct.
Councillor Josh Colle says that given the turmoil the previous controversy caused at City Hall, Ford should consider not sending out his donation letters, at least for now.
"It's just bad judgment," said Colle. "Considering what we've been through, he just might want to take a pause on that."
Colle said that the latest controversy casts doubt on whether Ford was sincere in January when he said he had been humbled by his court ordeal.
"Everyone's giving a lot of lip service to lessons learned and moving into new eras, and I just don't think it shows that," said Colle.
Councillor Karen Stintz also weighed in Thursday, suggesting Ford should stop sending out personal appeals for donations.
"I do think with all the controversy, it would be wise for him to step away from the direct solicitation of funds for his charity," she said. "His charity is a worthwhile charity, and will be able to get the donations without him needing to send a personal letter."
Stintz added that at least Ford appears to be following the integrity commissioner's direction to not use city letterhead for his charitable activities. The most recent letters were written on the foundation's letterhead instead.
Ford is currently on vacation in Florida and was not available for comment. But Thursday afternoon his chief of staff, Mark Towhey, emailed a statement to the press claiming that any letters sent to lobbyists were honest mistakes.
"It is our understanding that the Football Foundation makes every attempt to remove registered lobbyists from its mass mailing lists. If errors were made, they were inadvertent," Towhey wrote.
"The Foundation will review and look for ways to improve its processes. In any case, it is our understanding that the Foundation has not received any donations from lobbyists and it is Foundation policy to return such donations if they were to be received in error."
The statement provoked an angry reaction from Councillor Gord Perks, who said the email itself is a violation of council's code of conduct. The code forbids council members from using city staff for anything other than city business.
"By sending out a statement about the work of his private charity signed by Mark Towhey, the chief of staff, Rob Ford has once again violated the policy," Perks said.
The councillor believes that Towhey's email dangerously blurs the line between Ford's role as the head of his foundation and his position as mayor.
"If he's asking people for money and it's unclear whether he's asking as Rob Ford the guy who loves football, or Rob Ford the guy who is the mayor of Toronto, it puts pressure on people to make donations so that they get political favours, or don't get political punishment."