Rob Ford is off the hook.
Last week the mayor found himself under fire following the release of an ombudsman's report that determined his office interfered with the process by which residents are appointed to the boards of city agencies.
After hours of acrimonious debate at council Thursday, councillors voted unanimously to reform that process, but took no action against the mayor or his allies on the civic appointments committee.
Going into the meeting, Councillor Joe Mihevc said Ford should be forced to apologize, but in the end Mihevc only informally asked the mayor to say sorry, instead of moving a motion to that effect. Any will to seek censure for Ford wilted mayor's supporters pushed back, claiming the ombudsman's report was politically motivated.
In a speech to council, Councillor Doug Ford defended the mayor, and flatly denied that he had exerted any influence on the appointments procedure.
"[The mayor] was not involved in this process whatsoever. I want to clarify that," said Councillor Ford, the mayor's brother. "He washed his hands of this process completely. This administration is committed to an open, accountable, and transparent municipal government."
The appointments process occurs at the beginning of each council term and is vital to the functioning of the city. The boards govern 120 city agencies and commissions, including the police, port authority, and public library, which together make up third of the city's annual budget.
Ombudsman Fiona Crean determined that during last year's process Ford's office:
- first delayed and then accelerated the screening process for applicants, leaving insufficient time for city staff to vet applications or conduct outreach in accordance with the city's diversity policy
- unsuccessfully attempted to have language intended to attract diverse candidates removed from recruitment ads
- directed that recruitment ads not be placed in the Toronto Star, the paper with the largest circulation in the city
Crean also interviewed several witnesses who said that Ford staffers who attended a meeting of the civic appointments committee on July 18 distributed a list of their preferred appointees to committee members, a serious breach of the rules. But while an unnamed member of Ford's staff told her such a list existed, the person said it was for internal use only.
Ultimately Crean could not confirm whether such list had been distributed.
She also determined that while people working for the mayor did interfere, there was no evidence that the mayor himself was responsible.
"I have no knowledge of any direct involvement on the part of the mayor," Crean told reporters. "The mayor was not a witness to this investigation."
Crean said she never interviewed Ford for her report because he was not present at any of the incidents she probed and she has no jurisdiction to investigate the conduct of politicians. As ombudsman, she can only make judgments about how city staff do their jobs.
The integrity commissioner does have the power to investigate council members however, and could probe Ford's involvement were she asked to do so. That's something Councillor Adam Vaughan says he would support.
"I don't think this is the end of it. I think some of the allegations and the findings in the report need to be further understood... There was a process that was corrupted," said Vaughan, who conceded that the report didn't prove conclusively what exactly went wrong.
Council unanimously adopted the recommendations in the ombudsman's report aimed at reforming the way appointments are carried out. They include consolidating responsibility for the process a single bureaucratic office, having the city manager and clerk review the appointments policy, and making it easier for staff to identify applicants' potential conflicts of interest.