Turfed director resurfaces at city hall, renewing questions about his departure

Former public works director Lester Deane shows up in the very same committee room where CAO Doug McNeil, the man who took responsibility for getting rid of him, spoke to councillors.

Lester Deane made a surprise appearance at public works committee - while police sat in room next door

Deane did not say why he attended city hall, other than to attend a meeting. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Six weeks after he left the City of Winnipeg, former public works director Lester Deane made a surprise appearance at city hall.

Deane hasn't been seen at 510 Main St. since May, when chief administrative officer Doug McNeil declared the former director failed to meet performance expectations.

Efforts to contact Deane directly and through intermediaries have gone unheeded ever since.

But there he was Tuesday at public works committee, sitting in the public audience area at the very same committee room where the man who took responsibility for getting rid of him was updating councillors about the completion of the new rapid-transit station at Investors Group Field.

So what was Lester Deane doing at city hall?

"I have a meeting," he said affably, but without offering further explanation.

Otherwise, Deane sat in his chair quietly and intermittently looked at his mobile phone while the committee where he used to make presentations went about its business. About halfway through a two-hour public works committee meeting, the former director got up and left.

While this took place, two Winnipeg police officers in uniform sat in the councillors' lounge next to the north committee room.

While the officers did not enter the committee room, they remained next door for the duration of the committee meeting.

Public works chair Marty Morantz said he could not say why police sat in the room next door his committee meeting on Tuesday. (Gary Solilak/CBC)
Public works chair Marty Morantz (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Whyte Ridge) declined to say what brought the police to the council building.

"I can't really comment on that," he said.

Did it have anything with the former public works director showing up in the same place as the official who effectively removed him from his job?

"I can't really say," said Morantz.

The Winnipeg Police Service was equally circumspect.

"Our officers were there to deal with a private matter," the police service said in a statement. Const. Rob Carver later clarified there was no threat to the public in any manner.

Winnipeg communications manager David Driedger also declined to comment.

North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty, who had lunch with Deane after the meeting, said the former director notified the city in advance he would be attending public works committee.

Browaty declined to reveal the details of his conversation with Deane. But their lunch date ought to be of interest to both McNeil and Mayor Brian Bowman.

For months, Browaty has been attempting to convince the city to release a Portage and Main traffic study conducted by Dillon Consulting as a precursor to reopening the intersection to pedestrians.

Browaty, who opposes the project, went as far as to file a freedom-of-information request for the study and followed that up with a complaint to the provincial ombudsman after the city refused to comply.

Browaty has also repeatedly asked Bowman whether he will release the document. The mayor, who made reopening Portage and Main a campaign promise, has only said the city will issue a report about the intersection at some point in the future.

As the former head of public works, Deane received the Portage and Main study. He would be familiar with its contents even if he no longer possesses a copy. 

When Deane said last year that it would take years to reopen the intersection, Bowman suggested the public works director was not in charge of the project. While the difference of opinion between the two over Portage and Main demonstrably strained their relationship, it's unclear how much of a role this played in Deane's departure from the city.

McNeil stated in May it was his decision, not Bowman's, to part ways with Deane.

Lester Deane, Winnipeg's former public works director, observed a public works committee meeting on Tuesday. (Gary Solilak/CBC)
While Deane did not grant interviews on Tuesday, he did say he has not reached a settlement with the city. These settlements typically require the departing official to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Driedger, the city's communications manager, refused to say whether Deane remains on the city payroll even though the former director no longer works for the city.

This raises the possibility Lester Deane's appearance at city hall was related to departure talks in some way. Regardless, his presence at public works committee only raises more questions about the circumstances surrounding his departure.


Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.