A former senior staffer in Mayor John Tory’s office has been hired to the city’s realty agency in a top role that will make him one of the best paid employees in the city.
The Star has learned Vic Gupta has been hired as a senior vice-president of strategic development at CreateTO, a public agency tasked with managing the city’s $27 billion portfolio of more than 8,000 properties. Gupta’s salary for that position — newly created this spring — will be in the “mid” $200,000s, CreateTO confirmed.
The hiring comes after a different senior vice-president job posting at the organization in February appeared specifically tailored for a member of Mayor John Tory’s former staff or that of previous Toronto mayors. The qualifications for that position included: “Experience at the highest level with regards to the City of Toronto’s political realm, ideally having had experience working in the Mayor’s office.”
After reporting by the Star, that job posting was modified to broaden the pool of applicants. The Star also reported the earlier job posting, focused on “stakeholder communications and relations,” was forwarded to Gupta by the head of CreateTO. Gupta told the Star in February he had “no intention” of applying for that previous job, which according to CreateTO was filled earlier this year.
On Tuesday, CreateTO CEO Brian Johnston told the Star that he again made Gupta personally aware of the new vice-president position, which was created after the Star’s earlier reporting. Johnston said he communicated with the mayor’s office to inform them Gupta was a candidate for a senior position.
“They just want to be informed what is going on in our world,” Johnston said of the mayor’s office, refusing to identify who he spoke with. “They said he’s a good guy.”
He said the job was posted after CreateTO identified a “gap in our organizational structure” this spring.
Following questions about his communications with the mayor’s office, Johnston, a former real estate industry executive said, in general, the power structure at the city is less clear than in the private sector, saying he answers to several people. He included the mayor’s office in what he considered to be an “amorphous group of influencers.”
He said his hiring decisions are made based on skill-set and experience, and he is looking to hire the best possible people.
“I am not interested in hiring somebody because they know somebody,” Johnston said. “I’m not interested in making somebody happy.”
Following the Star’s earlier story, Johnston said he was trying to be “extremely cautious” about the hiring and that he was “looking for yellow lights and red lights” in considering Gupta for the role and that his intention was to identify whether candidates, not only Gupta, were a “good fit.” In all, he said some 25 candidates applied for the new senior vice-president role.
The new job, according to a posting provided by CreateTO, is to “provide leadership and strategic advice regarding the development of properties within the City of Toronto’s real estate portfolio” and will include managing some aspects of the complex Port Lands file that involves the rerouting of the Don River and several environmental considerations.
Qualifications included, in part, “relevant prior experience in the real estate industry and/or complex social and political environments.”
In terms of Gupta’s qualifications, Johnston listed the following in an email to the Star: “His knowledge of city processes; his insights into the bureaucracy and council governance; his broader knowledge of the Port Lands; His personality. He has a collaborative management style, which is very important to us.”
The mayor’s spokesperson Don Peat said their office “was aware that CreateTO was hiring for this position and that Mr. Gupta was being interviewed” but that Tory “had no involvement in this hiring” and that “any decision to hire Mr. Gupta was made by CreateTO itself.”
“Ultimately, it is up to CreateTO to find the best people to do the best job. We believe that Mr. Gupta is well qualified to take on this new role after his work in the Mayor’s office but the decision to hire him was up to the leadership at CreateTO.”
Gupta did not answer specific questions about any involvement of the mayor’s office in his recent hiring.
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“I applied for a position at Create TO that was posted on June 7th or thereabouts and I took part in a competitive process,” he said in an emailed statement to the Star. “Now that I’ve been hired, I’m looking forward to working non-stop to make sure CreateTO delivers on its mandate. In terms of compensation, I will be receiving a salary of $250,000. Any further questions should be directed to CreateTO.”
Gupta left his job as the mayor’s principal secretary following the 2018 election. He said he has been unemployed since then in order to spend time with his family.
CreateTO is responsible for all land transactions to do with city property and has become a key agency for Tory’s priorities as it now oversees his affordable housing plan that was first launched last term and a key plan in his 2018 platform, rebranded as Housing Now.
The city’s top-earning employees in 2018 included TTC CEO Rick Leary, who was paid $353,344 including benefits, according to the Sunshine List, the public salary disclosure of employees making more than $100,000 and published by the provincial government. Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders earned $347,222.
Only 30 of 14,194 City of Toronto employees who made the Sunshine List made more than $250,000 in 2018 — or just a fraction of a per cent of all employees. The median salary of those employees on the Sunshine List was $116,000.
Johnston said the high salaries at CreateTO are necessary in order to recruit experts from the private sector and that some existing city compensation, including that for council members, is too low.
Gupta’s hiring was announced internally in an email Monday afternoon, hours after questions from the Star were sent to the organization.
“Vic’s detailed knowledge of the city’s priorities, relationships with staff/councillors and insight will all be put to good use at CreateTO,” the email from Johnston to employees reads.
“Brian Johnston as our CEO has a vast amount of experience and I gather he did extensive interviews and for this job and this was the best identified candidate,” said CreateTO board member Councillor Paula Fletcher, saying she would accept the CEO’s decision. Fletcher, who represents the Port Lands area, said Gupta has experience working on that complex file when he was in the mayor’s office.
Gupta is expected to start his new role Aug. 26.
Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags