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Fleissig, CEO of Waterfront Toronto, pressured out by board

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Will Fleissig resigned as CEO of Waterfront Toronto after pressure from the board of directors during a closed-door meeting on his performance and the organization’s future last Thursday.

In a statement provided late yesterday evening, Helen Burstyn, chair of Waterfront Toronto’s board, confirmed that Fleissig made his decision to resign after the overall strategic objectives were outlined to the board at the Thursday meeting.

“He understood the strategic context in which we were discussing the future of Waterfront Toronto and the importance of being able to execute and implement,” Burstyn said. “We discussed the options for moving forward effectively—we considered the corporation—but the decision was his as much as the option was ours to give.”

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Talking Point

Less than three years into the role, Will Fleissig offered his resignation as CEO of Waterfront Toronto following pressure from the organization’s board of directors.

But sources told The Logic there were also internal tensions surrounding Fleissig’s communications with the board, and his oversight of a decision to allow Sidewalk Labs personnel to temporarily occupy office space in the Waterfront Toronto headquarters.

“The decision was mutual, and the timing was right for me to step aside as CEO,” wrote Fleissig in an e-mailed statement. “I am very grateful for the support the board, staff and governments provided me during my tenure—enabling us to advance the Port Lands and Quayside projects.”

Fleissig was announced as CEO on Dec. 14, 2015. Over the following two and a half years, he oversaw the organization’s most talked-about partnership: a deal with Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet, on the development of the Quayside on Toronto’s eastern Waterfront.

While the Quayside development has the potential to bring the world’s first smart city neighbourhood to Toronto, its rollout has so far met several setbacks.

Last week, the completion of the Sidewalk Toronto development plan was pushed back from late 2018 to early 2019. Waterfront Toronto officials have also been criticized for keeping secret the framework agreement that set the terms of its relationship with Sidewalk Labs. Privacy advocates have questioned where the project’s data collected on members of the public would be housed, as Sidewalk Labs is headquartered in New York City, with its parent Alphabet in Mountain View, Calif.

In the meantime, Waterfront Toronto is experiencing difficulty coming to a compromise on a non-disclosure agreement with a volunteer advisory board of digital and privacy experts brought in as project consultants.

Burstyn, who has been the chair for a year and half, summarizes Fleissig’s legacy as more than just the Sidewalk Toronto project.

“What Will helped to deliver was the funding and the trust of three levels of government for the Port Lands flood protection project,” she said, acknowledging the project wasn’t as “sexy” as the smart city plans, but that it was still “a truly significant achievement.”

A timeline and job description hasn’t been written for Fleissig’s replacement as CEO, but Burstyn said, “We’re hoping to fill that role as soon as possible,” noting that it took the organization a year to hire Fleissig after his predecessor, John Campbell, retired after over 10 years in the role.

Leadership will be provided in the interim by Burstyn; Meg Davis, Waterfront Toronto’s chief development officer; and Michael Nobrega, the former president and CEO of OMERS, who will be the acting CEO.

“The dedication and professionalism of WT’s staff is extraordinary—and I remain confident they will continue to execute working with all of our stakeholders,” wrote Fleissig.

The board will meet again early next week, with discussions surrounding the plan development agreement with Sidewalk Toronto to be held behind closed doors. The boards of Waterfront Toronto and Alphabet are expected to vote on the proposed plan for the Quayside development after it’s completion in spring 2019.