Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mayor spent thousands in brother's restaurant

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Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz has spent close to $10,000 of taxpayers' money at his brother's restaurant, according to expense documents that show the mayor held multiple business meetings at the Shaw Park eatery over a three-year span.

Newly released expense reports obtained through a freedom-of-information request show the mayor's office spent $9,949.95 on business meetings and one year-end holiday party at Hu's on First Asian Bistro between 2006 and 2009. This is the first time the mayor's past promotional, civic initiatives and protocol expense reports have been made public and the accounts include several pricey meetings at Hu's on First, including a January 2006 meeting for $1,046.97, a February 2007 meeting for $1,935.22 and a 2009 Christmas party where the mayor spent $2,984.50, plus a $418.39 tip.

Manitoba's company office records show the restaurant is owned by Katz's brother, David Katz, and is located in Shaw Park where the Winnipeg Goldeyes play. The mayor is majority owner of the baseball team.

Katz's spokeswoman, Rhea Yates, said the mayor was not available to comment on Friday.

David Katz could not be reached for comment.

The reports come as one local citizen continues to pursue a court challenge to oust Katz from office over conflict-of-interest allegations. Katz owned a separate restaurant -- Hu's Asian Bistro on Ellice Avenue -- until he sold it in June.

Earlier this year, restaurateur Joe Chan filed a declaration in the Court of Queen's Bench that alleged Katz is in a conflict of interest over Hu's Asian Bistro. In 2010, the mayor spent $2,915 of public funds on a party for city councillors, department heads and their families at his Ellice Avenue restaurant, according to previously released expense records.

Chan, who manages Cathay House, alleged Katz breached the trust of citizens by unfairly awarding a contract to a restaurant he owns and asked the office of the mayor "be declared vacant."

Lawyer David Matas, who has since taken on Chan's case, said Chan made some procedural errors, and his initial motion was withdrawn. In September, Matas said, a judge gave him the go-ahead to apply for another court order.

Matas said he and his client will now file another declaration in the Court of Queen's Bench to allege Katz has violated the municipal conflict-of-interest act. Matas said he will likely file the court documents in the next week.

"This was, after all, the mayor's restaurant and the government's paying for it. It struck (Chan), at least superficially, as a conflict of interest," Matas said on Friday.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation Prairie director Colin Craig said Winnipeg needs clear rules that stipulate elected officials cannot do business with relatives. Craig said most Winnipeggers likely wouldn't have a problem if the mayor bought a single meal at his brother's restaurant during a business meeting.

However, he said, it's a different story when it adds up to a significant bill.

"It's a practice that should definitely be discontinued," Craig said. "It's the optics. No one is going to retire off that much business, far from it, but it's still a practice that should change at city hall."

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 1, 2012 B1

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