Councillor Doug Ford says a months-long search for a new leader at Build Toronto is "going good," even though all the other directors on the board's search committee have left.
Mr. Ford, brother of Mayor Rob Ford, is vice-chair of Build Toronto, the city agency created four years ago to develop and sell surplus city lands. Six independent directors – five real-estate executives and one architect – have left or are about to leave the 13-member board. That includes the abrupt exit two weeks ago of chairman Stuart Lazier and the resignations of the two other independent directors from the search committee, leaving Mr. Ford as its only member.
The agency has yet to name a replacement for departing leader Lorne Braithwaite, but Mr. Ford said on Thursday he expects to pick a CEO after council appoints new directors next week.
"We have five candidates. They are all good candidates and we'll see what the new board decides," he said.
Mr. Ford dismissed reports that he is trying to put Toronto Port Lands Company president and CEO Michael Kraljevic in the post over the objections of other members of the search committee, but he went on to list Mr. Kraljevic's experience in the industry.
"I'll tell you one thing, he is one out of five candidates, [an] excellent candidate," he said. "He's probably one of the leading candidates along with other people at Build Toronto."
Asked about the exodus of independent directors, Mr. Ford noted that one left because of a conflict and another decided not to return for another term. "It is always good to refresh a board," he said.
Mr. Kraljevic and Toronto Port Lands were involved in a push by Mr. Ford two years ago to take control of development in the eastern harbour from Waterfront Toronto. That effort included awarding a consulting contract by the city agency to develop a new plan for the Port Lands, a move that went against council directives for the area and years of planning. Mr. Ford said Waterfront Toronto was moving too slowly. His vision included a Ferris wheel, monorail and mega-mall for the property.
Several sources with knowledge of the Build Toronto executive search have told The Globe and Mail that Mr. Ford has pushed for months to put Mr. Kraljevic in the job. A difference of opinion over the appointment played a role in the departure of at least two of the independent directors, the sources said.
There is also concern that Build Toronto, set up as an arm's-length agency to limit political influence, is now moving back under the control of councillors, particularly the mayor's brother.
Council next week will be asked to approve the appointment of seven new Build Toronto directors, one of whom is recommended as chair. Mr. Ford was one of three members of the nominating panel that selected the new directors. It also included councillors Frances Nunziata and Vince Crisanti, two of the mayor's most loyal supporters.
Council will also consider a recommendation to reduce the board's size by removing two city staff as directors.
The prospect of Mr. Kraljevic taking over at Build Toronto is a cause for concern among citizen groups who worked for years on plans for the Lower Don Lands only to have them threatened by Mr. Ford and Toronto Port Lands.
"How is this okay?" asked Cynthia Wilkey, chair of the West Don Lands Committee, a coalition of community groups that has worked for more than a decade on the waterfront development.
Ms. Wilkey said she was "gob-smacked" that the head of an agency that flouted the will of council is under consideration for a job managing a large city-owned real estate portfolio.