TTC chief general manager Gary Webster has been relieved of his duties, following a vote during a special meeting of transit commissioners Tuesday.
In a motion describing termination "without just cause," the transit commission voted 5-4 to fire Webster, who has worked at the service for 35 years, just two weeks after he expressed open defiance to a subway plan championed by Mayor Rob Ford. His ouster comes a year before he was set to retire.
"This was not how I expected this to end — certainly not how I wanted it to end," Webster told reporters shortly after his termination. "But clearly the choice has been made to replace me as chief general manager and I accept that."
TTC chair Karen Stintz, a vocal supporter of Webster's, thanked the outgoing senior manager for his years with the commission.
'You're kicking success out the door. You're throwing away success with both hands. What are you thinking?' —Coun. Maria Augimeri
Stintz told reporters she was left cold by the decision to sack a manager that many councillors defended passionately as a trusted public servant who, for years, ran the third-largest transit system in North America.
"Coming into the meeting, I had questions of 'why now' and 'what next,'" she said. "And the 'what next' is we now need to do a search; the 'why now' is not answered."
The TTC's current chief operating officer, Andy Byford, will take over Webster's day-to-day duties until a permanent replacement is found.
Tuesday's vote came after an hours-long in-camera meeting at Toronto City Hall and was followed by impassioned pleas from several councillors to save Webster's job.
Calling Webster a "consummate professional," Coun. Maria Augimeri's voice broke with emotion as she faced the commission members who wanted to dump the TTC veteran.
"You're kicking success out the door. You're throwing away success with both hands. What are you thinking?" she said, moments before the vote came down.
At one point, Augimeri raised her voice to a yell, accusing those loyal to Ford of "abuse of power" for getting rid of a dissenting voice.
$500,000 in severance expected
"Didn't you do your homework before you brought this before us? Did you do your homework at all! Did you think!" she said.
In a written statement on Tuesday evening, the mayor said he supported the board's decision, conceding that although the TTC accomplished much during Webster's tenure, "it's time for the organization to look forward."
Mayor Rob Ford statement:
"I support the Commission's decision on the departure of Mr. Webster. Gary has served Toronto and the TTC well in his years of service. He was an important element in the organization's many successes to date and can proudly point to a list of accomplishments.
But, it's time for the organization to look forward. The Commissioners tell me this. Councillors tell me this. The general public — and subway, streetcar and bus passengers all tell me it's time for change."
Ford said commissioners, councillors and "the general public," including transit customers, had told him they wanted change as the service seeks to modernize and improve customer service.
"The time is right for a new leader to take the reins at TTC and lead the organization through this period of major change," the mayor said.
Stintz had said earlier Tuesday her fellow transit commissioners should think twice about dumping Webster, who she said guided the TTC through a difficult period and is set to retire next year.
She estimated getting rid of Webster will cost taxpayers at least $500,000 in severance "because there is no cause" to do so.
Coun. Frank Di Giorgio, who was among the five commissioners who voted to fire Webster, cited an apparent unwillingness "to undertake or perform tasks that are consistent with leaders of a corporation" as a reason for his dismissal.
"I also think very highly of the general manager," Di Giorgio added, as guffaws broke out from the back of the room.
The other councillors who voted to oust Webster were Cesar Palacio, Denzil Minnan-Wong, Norm Kelly and Vincent Crisanti. The board has nine members.
‘Sad day’ for Toronto, transit
Webster, who has worked for the TTC since 1975, has been outspoken about the benefits of light rail over subways, going against the wishes of Ford.
Paul Bedford, a former chief city planner for the City of Toronto, said firing Webster for doing his job — and advocating for light rail transit — is nothing to celebrate.
"I think it’s absolutely a sad day for Toronto and a sad day for transit," Bedford told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.
Bedford said firing Webster would send the wrong kind of message, making it very difficult for Toronto to attract top professionals to work for the TTC or for other city departments in the future.
"The last thing Toronto needs is a bunch of yes men or yes women giving advice to the council of the day," he said. "It is absolutely a huge step backwards and a very, very sad day for Toronto."