Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Fact #3: Rob Ford used his office budget for home delivery of vodka and cigarettes

(Unfortunately this is not an April Fools joke...)


Really?

It's true (or at least it's allegations-that-have-been-made-to-police-by-multiple-witnesses-but-not-yet-proven-in-court). The largest single category in the mayor's $914,071.51 office budget* is staff salaries. These city employees are tasked with serving constituents and supporting the office of the mayor. The positions are generally salaried and, due to the nature of politics, their work often extends beyond a regular 9-5 weekday.

The mayor's staff told police that they were regularly asked to purchase alcohol, cigarettes and other personal items on the mayor's behalf. These goods were then delivered to the mayor at his office, to his car or to his home. It's assumed that Ford picked up the actual cost of the goods, but at no point did the staffers ever report that Rob Ford paid them privately for their labour. None of the staffers had a personal relationship with Ford that extended beyond their employment, so it certainly wasn't being done as a 'favour'. One must conclude that they were acting as City of Toronto employees on official City business. And taxpayers picked up the tab.

"Nico FIDANI, Kia NEJATIAN, Michael PREMPEH, Amin MASSOUDI and Isaac
SHIROKOFF may have bought alcohol for the Mayor as well. Staffers would go
approximately 10 times per month to purchase alcohol for the Mayor. The Mayor always wanted "Iceberg" vodka." (Project Brazen ITO p.114)

"FICKEL was frequently on-call during his employment with the Mayor. This meant that
he would be the person the Mayor would call after hours. The Mayor was unpredictable
and would sometimes call FICKEL with a 15 minute warning that he was going to go to
an event that he had previously said he was not going to go to.
The Mayor would call FICKEL to change light bulbs in the front lawn, change batteries
in his children's toys, buying cartons of cigarettes, bleach, laundry detergent and diet
coke for the Mayor's wife. The Mayor made these requests because FICKEL was his
"body man" at the time. Isaac SHIROKOFF worked in this capacity and with football
prior to FICKEL." (p.110)

"The Mayor had asked FIDANI once to buy him a "mickey" of vodka. FIDANI did so and
afterwards he told Mark TOWHEY about it. TOWHEY said that it was fine but to never do
it again. They Mayor was at his house at the time and FIDANI dropped it off there." (p.95)


Why should I care?

While the job description for a political staffer does include "special assignments as requested by the Mayor", it's highly likely that "picking up a carton of smokes for the Mayor's wife" is not what the City had in mind. Time spent on Rob's publicly-funded dial-a-bottle service meant time not serving constituents. It also meant a lack of respect for the personal time of staffers and exposed taxpayers to liability. Imagine if a staffer got hurt while fixing something in the mayor's house, or if a staffer sued the City for overtime.

Rob Ford loves to rail against perceived waste in the $31k discretionary budgets of city councillors (or at least the ones who aren't multi-millionaires and can pick up the tab themselves). However, discretionary costs pale beside the amount of money taxpayers spend on staff salaries - salaries that are also part of office budgets.

Abuse of staffer time is at least as serious as abuse of an expense account. But that's probably a little too nuanced for Rob. 

How do I know you're not lying?

Project-Brazen-ITO-Nov-27 
Constituency Services and Office Budget Expenses
CONDITIONS OF EMPLOYMENT - COUNCIL STAFF MEMBERS
City of Toronto Office Budget Policy

*Pre-Nov 2013 clawback

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