St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel has quit city council's executive policy committee because he feels Mayor Sam Katz’s inner circle has become "dysfunctional, broken and divided."
On Thursday morning, Mayor Sam Katz announced a shuffle of city council’s most powerful committee. The most dramatic move is the departure of Swandel, who has served on EPC since 2006 but now says he cannot work with the other members.
Minutes after the announcement, Swandel told reporters EPC weakened following the 2011 departure of former St. Vital councillor Gord Steeves, who quit to take a run at provincial politics. Steeves’ replacement was Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt.
Swandel said he was not comfortable working with remaining EPC members, who lacked experience, in his view. While he declined to discuss specifics, Swandel said he does not agree with what some EPC members have done and the situation has been "escalating."
Swandel called his decision to quit a "personal dilemma" and he plans to take a step back and focus on the needs of his ward residents. Mayor Sam Katz was reluctant to accept his decision, he added.
"He wanted me to stay and I told him I can't stay with that group," Swandel said.
Katz said he was saddened by Swandel’s decision to leave but did not respond to Swandel’s comments about how well EPC was working.
Swandel will be replaced by Point Douglas Coun. Mike Pagtakhan, who has had two previous stints on EPC. Pagtakhan, whose ward includes part of downtown, will assume Swandel's old role of chair of council's downtown, riverbank and heritage committee.
"The mayor can’t live without me," joked Pagtakhan, who said he thought long and hard about his return to EPC.
Wyatt to become deputy mayor
Wyatt, meanwhile, will assume Swandel's title of deputy mayor and also takes over both the finance portfolio and the alternate-service-delivery chair from St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Fielding, who will become chair of protection and community services.
Former protection chair Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) will remain on EPC but will no longer chair a commmittee. She will retain her Assiniboine Park and corporate sponsorship responsibilities.
Katz denied Havixbeck was being demoted and would not respond to questions about whether her criticism of the fire-paramedic station replacement program played a role in that decision.
The two remaining EPC members -- North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty and St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal -- will retain their respective property and public works roles.
In non-EPC appointments, Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry Coun. Jenny Gerbasi is council’s housing chair, St. Charles Coun. Grant Nordman retains the seniors’ advisory chair and rookie Elmwood-East Kildonan Coun. Thomas Steen becomes the councillor responsible for youth and recreational opportunities.
The changes will become official at council"s annual organizational meeting, slated for Nov. 7.
The shuffle also has implications on the 2014 mayoral election, as Swandel, Fielding, Wyatt and Havixbeck are all among councillors believed to be contemplating a mayoral run if Katz does not seek a fourth term in office.
When asked if he plans to run for mayor in 2014, Swandel replied: "I never close any doors and I love this city."