Last summer, the Toronto Sun recently reported, Mayor Rob Ford sent a memo to his office staff telling them to sign in when they come to work. For the mayor's office to function at its "optimal level," the memo explained, his executive assistant had to know "where staff may be during the business day."
To those who follow the mayor, that was pretty rich. His own attendance at city hall is spotty at best. On many days, no one can say where he is or what he is doing. As The Globe and Mail's Elizabeth Church put it, "the mayor's comings and goings are a mystery at city hall."
It is not just coaching football that keeps him away. The mayor's schedule, obtained by Ms. Church through a freedom-of-information request, shows that long after the football season came to an end this fall, he appeared to knock off at 3:30 p.m. most days.
The mayor brushes off the report. He told Newstalk1010 radio that "I just laugh" when people say he doesn't work hard. He said he returns 50 to 70 calls a day from voters and is sometimes up calling people as late as midnight. His spokesman says that Mr. Ford often attends events or works by phone on weekends and evenings, so he takes "private time" many afternoons.
Fair enough. We all need a little work-life balance and no one expects him to work 16 hours a day. But a mayor who promises more transparent government owes it to the city to be clearer about his movements. And a mayor who promises more efficient government ought to have more disciplined work habits. To borrow from Mr. Ford himself, it is hard for his administration to function at "optimal level" if people don't know where he is half the time.
Unlike mayors before him, he doesn't put out an official schedule. The press often gets little or no notice even when he is going to public events. It is not uncommon to ask his press secretary where the mayor is or what his plans are and get no response whatever. It is hardly an invasion of privacy to ask. Doesn't the public have the right to know how their mayor spends his work time?
It's all a little absurd, and completely unnecessary. Mayors of most other big cities are much more up-front about their doings. When reporters followed Mr. Ford to Chicago for a business trip last fall, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's pleasant and efficient press team told them where and when Mr. Emanuel would appear and what he would talk about. It was brisk, transparent and professional.
Here, the media have to go through the freedom-of-information process just to find out what the mayor does with his day. Even then, they don't get much. Many time slots in the schedule released this week are marked simply "meetings" or "events." On Monday, Dec. 10, it reads: 9-10 a.m. – private; 10-11 a.m. – Mayor's daily briefing; 11 a.m.-12 p.m. – meetings; 12-1 p.m. – office/reading/correspondence; 3:30-4:30 p.m. – private; 5:30-6:30 p.m. – private; 7-8 p.m. – calls/events.
Back when he was just a city councillor, Mr. Ford could get away with his practice of drifting in and out of city hall, a disengaged, half-there figure. Things are different now. He is mayor of a city of 2.7 million. In work as in life, part of the trick is simply showing up. Toronto deserves more than a half-there mayor.