Winnipeggers who wanted to share their views on golf greens wound up seeing red after an abbreviated debate over the city's embattled plan for five of its courses.
City council's alternate service delivery committee voted Friday to approve a plan to sell the John Blumberg Golf Course and lease four other city-owned sets of links to an Ontario firm. Committee chairman Russ Wyatt (Transcona) and St. Charles Coun. Grant Nordman both voted to sell the 81-hectare John Blumberg property and lease courses at Kildonan Park, Harbour View, Crescent Park and Windsor Park for 20 years to GolfNorth Properties, a Conestoga, Ont. operator.
Nordman said operating golf courses is not a core city responsibility and suggested proceeds from the Blumberg sale could finance repairs to the Sherbrook Pool. Wyatt praised the leasing component of the plan as a means of saving $759,000 a year for the city, citing a figure a number of other councillors have questioned as artificial, given the way funds are transferred between city departments.
Tempers flared before the vote, when five delegates who wished to address the committee were denied. While it's customary for committees to suspend their rules and allow delegates to speak even if they had not registered in advance, Wyatt declined to support a Nordman motion to do so.
As a result, delegates such as Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck and Mike Davidson, the president of the city's largest union, were not able to raise their concerns about the plan.
"This is an erosion of our democratic process," said Davidson, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500. "This is disgraceful what took place here today."
Wyatt said Davidson and Havixbeck are free to address executive policy committee on May 22 and council as a whole on May 29, when the golf-course plan moves forward.
Wyatt also continued to defend the $90,000 Responsible Winnipeg ad campaign, which a third of council has condemned as a waste of public funds. The print, radio, transit-bus and web campaign initially urged Winnipeggers to contact their councillors in the hopes they will support the golf-course plan.
That component of the campaign was deleted Thursday amid howls of outrage. "I thought it was the best part of it," Wyatt quipped, coyly stating he wasn't sure whose idea it was to use public funds to lobby his fellow councillors. "I like to hear feedback from constituents on issues like this."
Wyatt also suggested a CUPE 500 television-ad campaign against the proposed sale or lease of golf courses in 2012 was also financed by taxpayers.
"The union members are paid by you and me, the ratepayers," he said. "They have a large war chest, because they obviously charge their individual members too much in union dues to be able to fund their massive advertising campaigns."
Several councillors were also upset the first batch of Responsible Winnipeg advertisements appeared to be the work of an external organization. Wyatt said he approved the campaign materials as part of a group that also included Mayor Sam Katz and chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl.
Winnipeg marketing company Direct Focus ran the campaign. For the second straight day, the firm did not respond to interview requests.
In an embarrassment for the mayor, a Responsible Winnipeg advertisement appeared on an electronic message centre on the property of Shaw Park, where the Katz-owned Winnipeg Goldeyes play.
Katz spokeswoman Rhea Yates said that ad buy was a mistake and insisted no city advertising dollars will flow to the Goldeyes or Riverside Park Management, the non-profit organization that sublets Shaw Park to the baseball club.