Ford chief of staff had security remove senior official from boardroom, fired him
Nick Kouvalis, Ford's outgoing, outspoken chief of staff, confirmed to reporters that on Jan. 21 he ordered City Hall security to remove senior official and longtime Ford confidant Andrew Pask from a meeting in the mayor's boardroom and then fired him.
In an impromptu scrum in the City Hall press gallery late Friday afternoon, Kouvalis, accompanied by the mayor's brother, Ward 2 Councillor Doug Ford, also said he would have already returned to his family and campaign strategy company in Windsor except that he is "this close" - holding two fingers barely apart - to reaching agreement with the province on a transit expansion plan to replace Transit City.
"Transit City is alive and well and it’s going to be buried underground," Kouvalis said, referring to Ford's determination that rapid transit be buried, away from car traffic. The four Transit City lines the province had agreed to fund under Rob Ford's predecessor David Miller were primarily to run on the surface.
The scrum was another odd media relations chapter in the Ford mayoralty, where an attempt to douse a smouldering story only seemed to fan the flames. The mayor's older brother, who is also his closest advisor, and his top staffer, who managed his unorthodox but hugely successful election campaign, said they came down from their second-floor offices because stories were leaking out that they felt left the wrong impression.
They said the reports falsely suggested Kouvalis was leaving his job less than three months into Ford's mayoralty because of his decision to fire Pask, who was Rob Ford's loyal executive assistant for eight years, helping guide the lone-wolf councillor through debacles including Ford lying to cover up a drunken outburst at the Air Canada Centre.
Pask left City Hall in 2008 to become Bell Canada's manager of municipal affairs, and quit that job in December to return as Ford's senior policy advisor and head of council relations.
Kouvalis fired him the afternoon of Jan. 21. Hours later, Kouvalis confirmed to reporters that he himself was leaving the mayor's office. Kouvalis didn't reveal Pask's departure at the time, but the Star learned it from another source and reported that both men were leaving Ford's office.
Kouvalis and Doug Ford insisted there was no connection, that Kouvalis was leaving anyway for personal and professional reasons. While confirming the details, they also asked the gathered reporters not to write about the episode for Pask's sake.
The Star has repeatedly tried to contact Pask since Jan. 21, without success. He has had told friends: "Don't believe what you hear," about his departure, and noted that he still had his city-issued cellphone and email address. That led many to believe he might return when Kouvalis's replacement, Amir Remtulla, who was executive assistant for another councillor while Pask served Ford, starts Feb. 22. A reporter's email to Pask's city hall account Friday bounced back, with notification that it is not working.
Below are excerpts from the scrum:
Doug Ford: “We have bigger fish to fry in this city than worrying what Andrew and Nick are going to do. Andrew is still a good guy, he’s a great guy, I’m sure Rob communicates with him all the time ... Nick is still part of the family, part of the team. He’s going to work for a dollar a year (as an advisor to the mayor).
Kouvalis, after reporters asked if the reports of a confrontation that ended with him calling security to escort Pask out are true: “There was no big blowup or dustup. It was just chatter, it was talk, him and I. I asked him to leave," and he refused so Kouvalis called security. Kouvalis later said Pask was insubordinate in front of others during a staff meeting, and he ordered him to go to Rob Ford's office and wait for the mayor to return. Kouvalis didn't deny a report that he issued an ultimatum that he would quit if the Ford's didn't back up his decision to fire Pask.
Kouvalis: “We don’t want to hurt the guy (Pask). He’s got a family. Seriously. He’s a good guy ... He’s a good guy, leave him alone.
Reporters asked if he might return when Remtulla starts. Kouvalis: “Maybe.”
Doug Ford – "All I know is he still communicates with Rob ... Andrew’s a good guy, Nick’s a good guy”
When a reporter asks if this is a sign that the mayor's office is in discord and disarray, Doug Ford says: “I totally 100 per cent disagree with that comment."
Kouvalis – “We have a big office, we’ve got big files. We’ve done more than Miller did in like seven years in a month and a half. Right? Are people always going to be able to keep up with me? Right? Am I going to demand the best out of everyone? Yes."
Doug Ford: “We’re busy. All I know is you go the mayor’s office, you guys come in at 7, 8 o’clock at night, people are still there working. Everybody’s working hard … We have a great team."
Kouvalis confirmed he leaves his job Feb. 11. “The subway deal is this close. Otherwise I’d be gone already. Transit City is alive and well and it’s going to be buried underground. So let me just finish that and go back to my life and you guys can write whatever you want.”
Doug Ford: "And then, public record, he’s going to privatize garbage," as part of a task force to expand residential curbside garbage pickup beyong Etobicoke.
Doug Ford: "When somebody’s let go or whatever, they don’t show up, they’re gone, see ya later Jack. You guys have seen Nicky every day ..."
To listen to the scrum, click here: Download Memo