Suspending Joshi sends strong message

Experts say mayor can't turn back now


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Veteran observers of Winnipeg city hall say the suspension of chief administrative officer Deepak Joshi is unprecedented in local city politics, and his fate is likely sealed.

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This article was published 21/01/2015 (2806 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Veteran observers of Winnipeg city hall say the suspension of chief administrative officer Deepak Joshi is unprecedented in local city politics, and his fate is likely sealed.

William Neville, a former city councillor and now a senior scholar at the University of Manitoba, and Christopher Leo, a senior scholar at the University of Winnipeg, said they’re not aware of any other top civic official in Winnipeg’s history removed from a post under such controversial circumstances.

“The City of Winnipeg has seen some bad days, but this is a record breaker,” Leo said. “A lot of things have gone wrong at the city… (The mayor) has obviously decided the CAO’s involvement in some of the problems is such that he can’t be trusted anymore.”

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files Deepak Joshi had assured council in October 2013 he would not seek the CAO's job on a permanent basis.

Mayor Brian Bowman made the surprise move Friday to suspend Joshi with pay for three days. Bowman told reporters Tuesday he will recommend to his executive policy committee this morning the suspension be extended for up to 30 days.

More likely, the longer suspension will be dealt with at the Jan. 28 meeting of council (or a special meeting of council before then), where EPC will recommend Joshi be terminated and council will vote on the matter.

The mayor can suspend the CAO for three days, but it’s the job of the mayor’s executive policy committee to recommend to council an individual’s fate: either reinstatement or termination.

Only council can fire Joshi and, according to the City of Winnipeg Charter, that can be done by a simple majority vote.

Bowman would not discuss the reasons why he suspended Joshi and said Tuesday any discussions and decisions at today’s EPC meeting will be made behind closed doors. He said his recommendation is to extend the suspension.

“I can let you know in advance that’s what I’ll be bringing forward to EPC,” Bowman said.

Bowman told reporters Friday he had lost confidence in Joshi, who was closely tied to former CAO Phil Sheegl.

When Sheegl quit his job in the fall of 2013, amid unfolding scandals involving the fire-hall replacement program and the police headquarters project, council appointed Joshi — then the chief operating officer –to be the acting CAO, an interim position.

Coun. Ross Eadie, one of the five councillors who did not support Joshi’s appointment as acting CAO, said Bowman told council he believed they were being kept in the dark by the administration on important issues.

The clock was already ticking on Joshi when he got the bad news last week of his three-day suspension. Bowman revived the search for a permanent CAO following his election and promised a new boss would be in place by the end of February or early March.

Leo said Bowman could have waited until a permanent CAO was hired, but that would not have been publicly acceptable given the scandals of the past two years. Leo said sacking Joshi now sends a message to the public and civic employees.

“It’s obvious (Bowman) is facing a lot of serious problems, a lot that have to be unravelled,” Leo said. “It’s clear there have been habits formed in the way the city has run that add up to chronic mismanagement.

“You’d have to be critical of Mayor Bowman if he was just going to quietly wait (for a new CAO to be hired) before he even started.”

Neville said Joshi’s hold on the CAO office was acknowledged as temporary, with assurances given on the floor of council at the Oct. 22, 2013, council meeting he wouldn’t seek it permanently.

Neville said while it’s uncertain what brought Bowman to the point where he could no longer work with Joshi, there is no turning back now.

“I can’t see the situation being reversed,” Neville said. “The nature of what ought to be the relationship between the mayor and the CAO, it would be untenable for (Joshi) to come back…

“Ultimately, the mayor has to win this one.”

Neville said half of council is new to office, having been elected in October, and probably has had few dealings with Joshi. He said when the question of Joshi’s future is put to the floor of council, he expects the newcomers will follow Bowman’s lead.

Neville said he doesn’t see Joshi fighting to keep his job. “It seems improbable he would gain anything by fighting this now unless he feels his reputation has been sullied.”

Neville said he could take his dismissal to court but he would never get his job back.

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