Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says using city owned cellphones for volunteer work is justifiable because the public is being served.
Amid allegations in a newspaper report that Ford is using office staff to support his various youth football teams, the mayor was asked Wednesday whether it was permissible for staff to use city cellphones while out volunteering.
"Absolutely, if they’re helping people out, they’re serving the taxpayers," Ford told Toronto’s Citytv.
While the mayor said "some people" would disagree with that, Ford said his staff "even on their own private time they are using their phones on volunteer things, on city business."
A report in Wednesday's Globe and Mail alleges that at least two special assistants in Ford's office used their city-supplied cellphones to keep in contact with the football players.
The special assistants, Chris Fickel and Isaac Shirokoff, "are listed as contacts on the official Facebook page for Mr. Ford’s Rexdale Raiders, whose varsity and junior varsity squads play summer football in the Ontario Minor Football League," the paper reports.
It says a city official confirmed the numbers are for "city-issued, taxpayer-funded cellphones."
Shirokoff has recently left the mayor's office to attend graduate school.
Another former football player has recently been hired by Ford and has been seen helping out at football practice.
Ford also issued a statement Wednesday, saying critics assailing him for his intense involvement in football coaching should steer clear of making similar attacks on his staff.
"I'm okay if councillors want to criticize me for helping kids. That's their right," he said in a statement released Wednesday.
"I'm a big guy and I can take it. However, councillors should not be criticizing my staff. Each and every one of them works hard every day for the taxpayers of this great city. They put in at least 40 hours of work for taxpayers every week. Often more."
The mayor also said that "only a coward would criticize my staff."
Several councillors who spoke with CBC News on Wednesday said city resources shouldn’t be used for private pursuits, such as coaching a football team.
"It’s inappropriate if city resources were used for extracurricular activities like that and if their city time was used," Coun. Mike Layton said.
However, he added, there is nothing wrong with city staff volunteering on their own time.
Coun. Janet Davis said the mayor needs to consider his priorities.
"Mayor Ford was elected to be the mayor of Toronto, not a football coach," she said Wednesday. "If the staff who work in the mayor’s office are employees of the City of Toronto, they are not assistant coaches."
'Unprecedented' attention on mayor
Coun. Doug Ford defended his brother on Wednesday in the face of the latest criticism relating to his football commitments.
"It's incredible the way the media pounces on a guy that gives back," he told CBC News. "I think the media should focus on all the great work he's done with youth rather than just targeting him on this constantly."
Ford called the media attention on his brother "unprecedented."
Doug Ford did not deny that the staffers volunteer with the mayor's Rexdale Raiders summer league teams and the Don Bosco Eagles, but said the staffers are not doing anything wrong.
"As for his staff … his staff starts at 7:30 in the morning. They work their 40 hours for the city. Rob has thrown out: 'If you want to volunteer with youth you can come and help me. If you want to volunteer with youth in a different capacity, go and do it.' But to say that he's using tax dollars is absolutely ridiculous."
Earlier this week, the mayor was criticized for missing more than five hours of his executive council meeting so he could coach one of his football teams. Some city councillors have termed him a part-time mayor for his actions.
"This is a man who volunteers his time and gives back to youth, mentors 400 kids a year. There's not a politician in the country that mentors that many kids," Doug Ford said in his brother's defence.
Full statement by Mayor Rob Ford
It is no secret Mayor Rob Ford is passionate about football. He remains committed to supporting and creating opportunities for youth to better enhance their health, fitness and future prospects.
The Mayor's job is 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. Despite this, Mayor Ford also volunteers hundreds of hours each year as a youth football coach and for other worthy causes.
"I'm okay if Councillors want to criticize me for helping kids. That's their right," said Mayor Rob Ford. "I'm a big guy and I can take it. However, Councillors should not be criticizing my staff. Each and every one of them works hard every day for the taxpayers of this great city. They put in at least 40 hours of work for taxpayers every week. Often more."
"Only a coward would criticize my staff. They can't defend themselves in the media against elected officials."
As Mayor of Toronto, Mayor Ford is accompanied by one or more of his staff members at most times, in order to assist him in his official duties. Staff in the Mayor's Office are selected for their jobs based on their skills, experience, education and commitment to making Toronto a better city.
The Mayor is a strong advocate for Toronto's volunteers. He volunteers himself and actively encourages others to do so. Paid work is not the only type of work that contributes to our society. Thousands of Toronto residents volunteer their skills and efforts every day — it's part of what makes this a great city.
"This city wouldn't be the same without volunteers and I appreciate everything they do," said Mayor Ford.