Mayor Rob Ford thought he could be in a conflict of interest only if the item he was voting on benefited the city, and had no knowledge of a handbook city staff gave him and other council members that explains conflicts.
That’s according to remarks recorded in a transcript of a closed-door June 27 deposition by lawyer Clayton Ruby, who will give him another grilling — in open court this time — on Wednesday during a three-day conflict of interest hearing.
If the lawsuit launched by resident Paul Magder is successful, Ford would be automatically kicked out of office unless the judge deems his actions inadvertent or an error of judgment, or the sum involved “insignificant.”
Ford also told Ruby he voted to spare himself from paying back donations to his foundation, which gives football equipment to schools, because the foundation is “fantastic” and “saves kids’ lives.” Asked if he regretted his actions for even a moment, Ford replied: “Absolutely not.”
But the mayor was much less emphatic about many other things, including his first vote on the issue, in December 2010, and when it returned to council last February because he had failed to repay, as ordered, $3,150 in improperly solicited donations by lobbyists, their clients and a business.
During the roughly three-hour deposition, Ford replied “I don’t recall,” or “I don’t remember” a total of 89 times, prompting a chiding from Ruby about his “memory problem.”
Ford initially suggested he relied on city legal staff to alert him if he was in a possible conflict of interest, and said they did not do that in February.
“Legal staff usually tells you if you have a conflict or not … If you’re told by legal staff that you have a conflict, you declare a conflict if it benefits the city.”
Later in the questioning, after being led through a section of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, Ford agreed it was up to each council member to ask city staff for advice. The factum filed this month by his lawyer, Alan Lenczner, conceded it was up to the mayor to determine any conflicts.
Ford — a councillor for 10 years before he was elected mayor in late 2010 — told Ruby he couldn’t recall ever receiving the handbook that city staff give all council members at the beginning of each council term.
It states members have a duty not to participate in the decision-making process on an item in which they have a “direct or indirect pecuniary interest.” It doesn’t matter whether the issue at hand benefits the city.
“Do you have a memory of the handbook?” Ruby asked.
“I just answered that question,” Ford replied.
“You said ‘I have a memory in my mind.’ What is it you have in your mind?” Ruby asked.
Ford replied: “I can remember what I ate for breakfast.”
Ruby took Ford through multiple instances where he declared a conflict of interest on issues involving printing contracts — his family owns a printing firm — and Greensboro Dr., where one of the printing plants is located.
“If staff tells me to declare a conflict, I declare a conflict,” Ford said.
He said it was important he convince council to let him off the hook for the $3,150 repayment.
“Number 1, I think the thing that bothers me is that I had to pay it back personally. It’s not personal money,” he said. “I don’t benefit from this. I don’t make a dime on this. I actually lose money on this” foundation.
“So when (the integrity commissioner) said I have to pay it out of my own pocket, I don’t see why I have to pay it out of my own pocket . . .
“I’m voting because I know my foundation. It’s a fantastic foundation . . . The foundation does great work, saves kids’ lives. That’s exactly why I’m speaking about it, and that’s why I did speak about it.”
After Ford’s impassioned speech in February, council voted 22-12 to rescind the earlier decision to force him to repay the donations he had solicited during meetings on city business.
Ford even hit Ruby up for a donation, noting: “It’s a very good cause.”
Lenczner will argue that council never had the power to force Ford to repay the money and the Conflict of Interest Act doesn’t apply because Ford’s actions were governed by a council code of conduct that falls under another act.
If the judge doesn’t agree, his factum states, Ford’s “alternate defence” will be that he broke the law through inadvertence or error in judgment and that $3,150 is too insignificant a sum to have reasonably influenced his actions.