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Councillor crossed line: CAO

Joshi raps Havixbeck for corruption comment

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Deepak Joshi: word 'crossed the line'

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The head of Winnipeg's public service has warned Coun. Paula Havixbeck she crossed the line with budget-day comments that suggested corruption may afflict the city -- and asked her to refrain from further questioning the integrity of city officials in what he described as an inappropriate manner.

Acting chief administrative officer Deepak Joshi said he's defending the honour of city employees -- but the Charleswood-Tuxedo councillor said she is the victim of an intimidation tactic.

In a letter dated Dec. 6, Joshi wrote Havixbeck about comments she made to reporters on Nov. 29, when Mayor Sam Katz tabled a 2014 operating budget that includes a 2.95 per cent property-tax increase.

During a budget-day scrum with reporters, Havixbeck said Winnipeggers resent a tax hike in the wake of city mismanagement of major projects such as the new police headquarters and new fire-paramedic stations.

"I think it's a complete sham to know nearly $100 million worth of overexpenditures are due to mismanagement, incompetence (and) perhaps corruption and we're going to put this on the back of taxpayers?" she said. "When they see this kind of miismanagement going on, who can blame them?"

Havixbeck's comments were broadcast by at least one media outlet. One week later, Joshi wrote the councillor to suggest she was causing indiscriminate harm to city staff.

"Very respectfully, I would suggest your choice of words was less than temperate and even inflammatory and ought to be reconsidered," Joshi wrote.

He also asked Havixbeck to refrain from making comments of this nature in the future -- and reminded her of the City of Winnipeg's respectful workplace policy.

In an interview Tuesday, Joshi said he took the unusual if not unprecedented step of writing "a private, confidential letter" to an elected official -- in effect, one of his employers -- out of a duty to defend members of the public service.

"The word 'corruption' crossed the line with me," he said. "That word was kind of out of bounds."

Havixbeck, however, claims Joshi is trying to censure and intimidate her. She claimed she has been targeted for criticizing city hall.

"I won't be bullied by these intimidation tactics," she said. "Did he ask anybody else? There have been a lot of negative comments, and to my knowledge I am the only councillor who has received such a letter."

Havixbeck said she has been asking the city for months to release precise information about the number of city staff, to no avail.

"Clearly, my line of questioning on the budget process has struck a nerve for Mr. Joshi."

The acting CAO denied he was trying to squelch dissent. "We should have vigorous debate about budgets. I'm not attempting to stop her from vigorous debate," he said. "I'm trying to work with the councillor on this."

The relationship between Havixbeck and Joshi has been strained for more than a year. Last fall, when Havixbeck chaired council's protection and community services committee, Joshi was among three senior city officials who were subjected to a three-hour committee grilling about the fire-paramedic station replacement program.

This fall, after former chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl resigned, Havixbeck attempted to install Winnipeg Transit director Dave Wardrop as acting CAO in an effort several other councillors characterized as an anyone-but-Joshi campaign. Her motion failed after Joshi promised EPC members he would not apply to fill the CAO's position on a permanent basis if he was appointed acting CAO.

Over the past two decades, it's been rare to see a senior Winnipeg public servant butt heads with an elected official in a public manner.

In 2004, former Winnipeg Transit director Rick Borland demanded Katz apologize after one of the mayor's policy advisers authored a memo questioning the integrity of transit officials. Borland did not receive an apology and soon resigned.

In the 1990s, former mayor Susan Thompson frequently butted heads with the Board of Commissioners, a group of senior city officials who used to manage the public service. The board was eventually dismantled in a move that afforded greater power to Thompson's successors, Glen Murray and Katz.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 10, 2013 B1

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