Timing of new NCC job 'not ideal', says Nussbaum

Tobi Nussbaum, the Ottawa city councillor who's stepping down to oversee the National Capital Commission only three months after being re-elected, admits the timing could be better.

Re-elected Rideau-Rockcliffe councillor to step down, will serve as commission's CEO

Coun. Tobi Nussbaum has been a progressive voice on council for the past four years. Now, just weeks after being re-elected, he's quitting to be the new CEO for the National Capital Commission. (CBC News)

An Ottawa city councillor who's stepping down to oversee the National Capital Commission only three months after being re-elected admits the timing could be better.

The surprise news that Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum will replace outgoing CEO Mark Kristmanson was announced late Thursday.

Since then, Nussbaum's been criticized for leaving his elected post so early in the term and triggering a byelection.

"There's no question the timing is not ideal," Nussbaum said Friday. "If I could have it a different way, the timing would be different."

'Wasn't thinking about other jobs'

A general call for a new CEO went out last spring, but Nussbaum said he was focused on the election at that time.

"I was in the middle of a campaign. I wasn't thinking about other jobs," he said. 

The application deadline was supposed to close in July, but it had been extended, suggesting the selection committee was having trouble picking a candidate.

When it still open in November, Nussbaum said "a number of residents" from his ward encouraged him to put his name in the hat.

The residents — whom Nussbaum would not name — told him his experience both in the public service and as a city councillor "offered a pretty unique skill set," he said.

Nussbaum is a bilingual lawyer with a public administration degree from Harvard University. He was a senior bureaucrat before running as a progressive candidate in Rideau-Rockcliffe in 2010.

News reports earlier this week that the councillor was a leading CEO candidate hastened the NCC's official announcement, according to CBC sources familiar with the confidential hiring process.

Getting up to speed

Although there are several large files awaiting Nussbaum at the NCC, with LeBreton Flats chief among them, Nussbaum said he's going to take the next few weeks to make sure that Rideau-Rockcliffe residents are in good hands at city hall.

The NCC's board of directors is scheduled to decide in late January how to proceed with the LeBreton Flats redevelopment, which is on the rocks since Senators owner Eugene Melnyk sued his partners in the project.

But as Nussbaum will take over as CEO on Feb. 4, it's unclear if the board will charge ahead with a new direction for LeBreton in January or wait until later.

Nussbaum will replace outgoing NCC CEO Mark Kristmanson when he takes over the position in February 2019. (CBC)

After Nussbaum officially resigns, which he plans to do near the end of January, council will need to declare the Rideau-Rockcliffe seat vacant. That will likely happen in February.

The Municipal Act actually allows council to appoint someone under these circumstances, but that would be highly unlikely this early in the term.

When former Orléans councillor Herb Kreling resigned in the fall of 2005 — he had applied to be a justice of the peace — a byelection was held in January 2006, even though a municipal election was scheduled for November.

That 2006 byelection cost $277,000, the equivalent of $340,000 in 2018 dollars. However, the city clerk's office is now estimating it will cost up to $500,000 to hold a byelection for Nussbaum's seat.

The steps council and the clerk's office have to take include issuing a byelection bylaw and declaring a nomination day. The byelection has to be held by the end of July, but it will likely be earlier.

People are already musing about running, including Peter Heyck, who ran against Nussbaum last fall — he garnered less than 20 per cent of the vote — and Overbrook community activist Rawlson King.

In the meantime, council will likely appoint other councillors to help out with planning files and other issues that arise in Rideau-Rockcliffe.