Carolyn Parrish uses strong mayor powers to fire top bureaucrat

Mississauga's newly elected Mayor Carolyn Parrish has used strong mayor powers multiple times since being sworn-in, despite saying she would avoid them where possible on the campaign trail.  (Evan Mitsui/CBC News - image credit)
Mississauga's newly elected Mayor Carolyn Parrish has used strong mayor powers multiple times since being sworn-in, despite saying she would avoid them where possible on the campaign trail. (Evan Mitsui/CBC News - image credit)
  • UPDATE: The city posted a seventh strong mayor directive to its website this week. The decision, to appoint two individuals to official city roles, took effect June 28. The appointments are for interim commissioners of transportation and works as well as infrastructure, planning and engineering.

Mississauga's new mayor, Carolyn Parrish, has already used strong mayor powers half a dozen times in her first week on the job, despite saying on the campaign trail that she would aim to avoid using them.

On May 7, before becoming mayor, Parrish told CBC News: "I would try not to use strong mayor powers. I think the power of persuasion and general good solid policy is much stronger."

However, the new mayor has already used the powers for a number of moves, including to replace the city's chief administrative officer (CAO).

Shari Lichterman was the city's manager and CAO until last week.

But on June 25, the day after the new mayor was sworn in, Parrish asked to meet with her, Litcherman told CBC News. Litcherman said Parrish told her at the meeting that her job was being terminated immediately without cause.

The city's website confirms Parrish used her provincially granted strong mayor powers — which allow her to act without the majority of council to override bylaws and hire and fire department heads — to replace Lichterman with Geoff Wright as the interim city manager and CAO effective immediately until the end of the year.

"I was hoping to be given an opportunity to work with her," said Litcherman. "But clearly, she had already made a decision."

Parrish did not respond to a request from CBC News to speak about the decision.

Among half a dozen mayoral directives so far, Parrish has rescinded Mayor Crombie's decision to delegate the powers to hire and dismiss certain city officials to the city manager, appointed an interim city solicitor, created a deputy mayor position, appointed various chair and vice chairs and changed the nature of the budget committee.

The slew of unilateral decisions just days into her term is raising concerns from some political experts that the mayor's choice to repeatedly use strong mayor powers could have a chilling effect among councillors and staff.

No opportunity for council to decide together

The role of the city manager and CAO is to make sure the municipality functions well and can deliver services like public transit or recreation programs well to the public.

Council first met with Parrish as its mayor on June 26 — after Lichterman was let go — leaving no opportunity to form a decision together about the future of the role.

Shari Lichterman, city manager and CAO at the city of Mississauga, said although voter turnout for municipal elections is typically low, the city is anticipating better turnout in June because there is a potential for change in the city.
Shari Lichterman, city manager and CAO at the city of Mississauga, said although voter turnout for municipal elections is typically low, the city is anticipating better turnout in June because there is a potential for change in the city.

Shari Lichterman, who was the city manager and chief administrative officer at the city of Mississauga, was terminated by the mayor on June 25. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Lichterman said she worked with Parrish while the new mayor was still a councillor and the two never had a negative relationship.

In a news release June 26, Parrish thanked Lichterman for her contributions, but did not say why she was replacing her with a new CAO.

"I want to thank Shari for her years of service to the organization and our residents, as well as her contributions to moving Mississauga forward," Parrish said. "I wish her well in her future endeavours."

Lichterman said some of her former colleagues were left "a bit shaken" by her dismissal and that she's worried the move "risks politicizing the bureaucracy." However, she said she trusts her former colleague, Wright, will do a good job leading staff through the situation and wished the best for the city.

The new CAO and city manager told CBC News in a statement: "I think our role as staff has not changed at all... providing that independent advice and recommendations to council, so we will continue to do that as an organization."

'Sledgehammer has come out pretty quickly': professor

Myer Siemiatycki, professor emeritus of political science at Toronto Metropolitan University, said Parrish's directive to hire and fire certain staff is a political decision rather than a bureaucratic one and signals she's going to be in charge and running the show.

"The sledgehammer has come out pretty quickly in Mississauga, it seems," said Siemiatycki.

"It's worse than a chill. It signals to those senior civil service staff that their recommendations to council had better align with the mayor's preferences, or their jobs are in jeopardy," he said.

That, he said, is "dangerous to good governance."

Myer Siemiatycki is a professor of politics at Ryerson University and says Brampton i s likely to be a bellwether for Ontario's provincial election.
Myer Siemiatycki is a professor of politics at Ryerson University and says Brampton i s likely to be a bellwether for Ontario's provincial election.

Myer Siemiatycki, professor emeritus at Toronto Metropolitan University, says it is 'dangerous to good governance' that the new Mississauga mayor has used strong mayor powers multiple times in her first week on the job. (CBC)

Stephen Adler, senior public affairs director at National Public Relations, says Parrish's timing is surprising but likely wise.

"If you are going to go in with a hammer, it's better to go in with a hammer on day one," he said.

Adler said he thinks Parrish will continue to work well with other council colleagues.

Several directives well-received: councillor

CBC News reached out to multiple council members to discuss Parrish's early use of the powers.

Many were unwilling to comment on whether using them was justified.

Ward 1 Coun. Stephen Dasko, who also ran for mayor, said it was a "different" approach to what his own might be, but one Parrish is allowed to pursue.

Stephen Dasko
Stephen Dasko

Coun. Stephen Dasko says he would take a different approach to using strong mayor powers than Parrish, but added she is allowed to make her own choices. (Clara Pasieka/CBC)

Ward 11 Coun. Brad Butt, said he did not want to comment on the new mayor's decisions, but that he has always been against the powers.

"Where the mayor wants to be collaborative, as an example on the budget process, I think that's great and I'm delighted to work with my colleagues," said Butt, who was appointed chair of the new budget committee through one of the mayoral directives.

He says several directives, like creating a deputy mayor, were well-received by council.

"I think Mayor Parrish has done a good job reaching out and consulting with members of council, regardless of strong mayor powers," he said.