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How would candidate Rob Ford judge Mayor Rob Ford on 'accountability'?

So yesterday, in response to a story about a member of his staff allegedly freaking out at a GO Station and damaging a door, Mayor Rob Ford said this: “It’s actually no one’s business what happens in my office,”

This is not a smart thing for an elected official to say. As citizens of Toronto, you and I pay for Ford's office. That alone makes it our business. It's fair for reporters to ask questions about highly-paid staff members who may not be doing a great job representing the office of the mayor.

But beyond those basic facts, there's this question: what exactly happened to Rob Ford since he was elected in 2010? The guy ran on a platform that trumpeted words like “openness” and “accountability.” He raised them up as virtues he would strive to achieve. But he hasn't, really. Since election, Ford has run one of the most secretive and closed-off administrations in recent memory. How exactly did he miss the mark so badly?

The mayor's 2010 campaign documents paint a picture of a politician with big ambition and laser focus. Ford's “Taxpayer Protection Plan” was all about accountability. “It’s time to bring transparency and accountability to government,” it reads. “It’s time to improve the customer service people and businesses receive from City Hall. It’s time to show some respect for taxpayers in Toronto.”

Nowhere in that five-page platform document or the accompanying four-page backgrounder does it suggest that it's no one's business what happens in the mayor's office. Instead, Ford's team laid out a series of reforms they would make to increase transparency. Ford has succeeded at implementing only a few of them: reducing councillor office budgets, putting more city spending data online, whistleblower protection and recording every council vote. (Though votes at committees still generally go unrecorded.)

He's fallen way short in several other areas. Ford's accountability plan says City Hall should strive to keep “in camera” meetings — those that are closed to the public and the media — to a minimum, and set a “sunshine date” on such meetings so the details become public eventually. It was a good idea, but there's been no movement on it. Instead, Ford's term has seen several long, reported acrimonious in camera debates about topics like public appointments and corporate spending at some of the city's boards and agencies.

There's a similar lack of action in other areas. Ford promised to improve and enhance the community consultation process to increase accountability, but — unless elaborate barbecues count as community consultation — there's little sign of an improved process. The same goes for his pledge to transfer more legislative powers down to the community council level, so local decisions can remain local — no action.

Then there's the areas where Ford hasn't seemed to even keep pace with his predecessor when it comes to openness and transparency. Ford has refused to make his day-to-day schedule of appearances public, something most other mayors have had no trouble doing. He sometimes goes weeks without answering questions from the media. His office, deluged with freedom of information requests, has missed deadlines to release documents and emails. He hired David Price, a man with a long-time family connection, gave him a yearly salary of $130,000 and then never really made it clear what exactly that staff member was tasked with doing. (We finally learned this week: “His job currently entails monitoring how efficient the office is in responding to emails.” OK.)

Given all this, it seems fair to ask: what does the mayor think accountability means?

Is this it?

This post was originally published at on 2013-09-20T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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