$50K national search results in internal hire for Mississauga’s new CAO, Shari Lichterman
The City of Mississauga has appointed Shari Lichterman as its top bureaucrat.
She takes over as Chief Administrative Officer and City Manager following a nation-wide search led by an independent firm that cost taxpayers $50,000, resulting in an internal hire to lead Canada’s seventh largest city.
In just three years, Lichterman went from running the City’s recreation department to being in charge of the entire municipal administration, a meteoric rise to the top, into a role that is usually preceded by decades of municipal government experience at senior levels in areas such as finance, engineering or urban planning.
She joined the City a little less than eight years ago and was quickly promoted up to the commissioner level three years ago, in charge of corporate services and the finance department. She leapfrogged commissioners who have been at the level much longer. Prior to her arrival at City Hall in 2015, she worked for Canlan Ice Sports for seven years, in management roles helping run the company’s recreation facilities.
“Her wealth of private sector experience combined with her knowledge across the corporation uniquely positions her to best advance the priorities of Ontario’s third largest city,” Mayor Bonnie Crombie said. “Shari is always looking for better, more efficient ways to do business and over the years has identified millions in savings for taxpayers, helped streamline service delivery while making our annual budgeting process easier to understand for both residents and businesses. I’m confident she will be a great fit to help lead our staff and our city into the future while addressing some of the real challenges before us.”
Lichterman replaces Paul Mitcham, who after nearly three decades of service retired suddenly from his position with the City in February. His departure came two months after a $686K lawsuit was filed by former councillor Karen Ras which made disturbing allegations against the former CAO, and Crombie, claiming they had failed to properly support her when she was allegedly being harassed by another former member of council, Ron Starr (Starr denies the allegations against him).
In a foreshadowing of the decision council members made Wednesday, they selected Lichterman to serve as acting City manager between February and May while the City conducted a recruitment process.
In an email to The Pointer, a City spokesperson confirmed the City retained Odgers Berndtson, an executive search firm, to lead the process to find the new CAO. It included a six-week open posting and two rounds of interviews by the mayor and members of council. The cost of the recruitment was $50,000, which staff said “is consistent with the cost of recruitment of this nature.” The search included all of Canada.
Lichterman’s hiring continues a disturbing pattern of senior municipal leadership in Peel that does not reflect its demographics.
The Region of Peel and its lower-tier municipalities have been criticized for the lack of representation in one of the most diverse parts of the country. A 2021 internal staff survey of Mississauga City Hall found just under 30 percent of staffers are racialized and only 17 percent of the City’s leadership team is non-white, in a city where almost 70 percent of residents are visible minorities.
“The City of Mississauga continues to be committed to ensure equity, diversity and inclusion in our recruitment processes,” the City spokesperson said, highlighting women as part of this focus but failing to mention non-white candidates who continue to be overlooked. “Odgers Berndtson has a unique approach to recruitment that allows them to develop authentic relationships with candidates in key communities and professional organizations, ensures an inclusive search methodology/approach, and supports organizations in their strategic diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.” The claims by staff fail to explain how the executive search firm, which conducted “an inclusive search” across the country in support of the City’s commitment to “strategic diversity, equity, and inclusion” resulted in an internal hire who is white.
The ultimate decision was made by members of council, who chose the person they wanted, while Odgers Berndtson helped find other candidates to be interviewed.
Conerns have been raised about the workplace culture inside City Hall and the lack of diversity among Mississauga’s senior leadership.
(The Pointer files)
Lichterman has faced her own critics who have complained about the culture inside City Hall after residents and staff raised concern about Mississauga’s participation in the use of disrespectful names and imagery stereotypically associated with Indigenous communities which actually cause harm to many First Nations and Indigenous members. At the time, an internal email sent to staff by Lichterman in 2018, when she was director of recreation, was shared with The Pointer. It referred to a deeply offensive name used for a local hockey club.
Despite knowing it was a sensitive issue and that residents had raised concerns, Lichterman instructed her staff that no agreement to stop using the name had been reached, repeating the hurtful term in her email to employees, “so business as usual as it relates to the teams playing and practicing in our buildings and wearing their jerseys.” Staff told The Pointer they were disturbed by Lichterman’s lack of sensitivity around the issue. Then, instead of apologizing for the way she communicated to staff, including the use of the offensive term, she told The Pointer, “The tone of the email was intended to be clear and direct...”.
Three years later, in 2021 during the pandemic, community members tried to save a beloved local outdoor skating rink in the Burnhamthorpe Road and Dixie Road area, putting together a petition to stop the City from bulldozing it. Lichterman, who had been promoted to commissioner of community services, questioned the effort by neighbourhood residents. She said people who signed up for the online petition were being asked to do so, “as they’re showing up to the rink to skate in a pandemic when it’s the only thing for them to do”, suggesting that a “vocal group of residents” was using the pandemic to skew the issue.
Residents told The Pointer they were appalled by Lichterman’s attitude toward them.
As concerns around the lack of diversity in senior leadership and the workplace culture persist inside City Hall, Lichterman steps into the top role at a particularly crucial time for Mississauga’s future.
The CAO is responsible for the overall administration of the City and acts as the senior liaison between Mississauga staff, the mayor and councillors to advance key council and City priorities; essentially every major decision brought to council is streamed through the top senior public servant. The CAO is in charge of developing the City’s corporate policy and advising on economic growth and legal services while overseeing the planning horizon at a time when developers are aggressively pushing their projects on local officials. With the City of Mississauga facing financial pressures and the PC government’s aggressive growth targets under Bill 23, with four new members around the council table, the new CAO will have to guide City Hall through challenging times.
Mississauga’s 2023 budget revealed the “City is facing serious funding challenges caused by inflation levels that have not been experienced for decades” leaving the City grappling with an uncertain financial future, one that will have to be managed by a new CAO with limited experience at the highest ranks of municipal government.
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