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A worker piles garbage at the Commissioners Rd. waste transfer station in Toronto.Kevin Van Paassen

The city bureaucrat who has led efforts to privatize garbage collection is stepping down from his post.

Geoff Rathbone, General Manager of Solid Waste Management Services, is heading for a job at Progressive Waste Solutions (formerly BFI), one of the country's largest waste management firms. He'll leave at the end of the month.

The move comes as City Council gears up to debate a controversial plan Mr. Rathbone masterminded that would contract out garbage collection between Yonge St. and the Etobicoke border.

"He has been exceedingly helpful on the contracting out issue," said Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of Toronto's Public Works committee. "He was a strong advocate of it, believed in it, thought it would save the city money."

The plan has been criticized by labour groups and left-leaning councillors for proposing 300 lay-offs and a final approval process that would by-pass city council.

His new position would appear to give Progressive an inside track on the bidding process, but Mr. Minnan-Wong said that the hiring of a fairness commissioner to oversee the privatization process should squelch those concerns.

"The fairness commissioner will consider the appropriateness of any bids, including any potential conflicts that may exist because of Mr. Rathbone's association with BFI," he said.

Mr. Rathbone said he has already recused himself from all work on the privatization file.

The months ahead promise raucous debates around the privatization issue as the union for garbage collectors fights to save public jobs. Mr. Rathbone said he would have liked to see it through to its end, but "you can't choose when opportunities come to you," he said. "It may not be perfect timing but I think I've taken appropriate steps to ensure the integrity of the city and ensure my integrity."

Though the contract issue is still in its nascent stages, Mr. Minnan-Wong said the departure of his top man on the garbage file won't affect the city's plans.

"We're sad to lose him," he said. "But we won't be slowing down."

Mr. Rathbone's exit marks the fifth departure of a top city manger since Mayor Rob Ford took office, a trend that has alarmed some councillors.

"Losing city managers at this rate is not a healthy symptom of how the city is being governed," said Councillor Gord Perks.

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