AFTER a seven-week summer break, Winnipeg city councillors are in a surly mood as they trudge back into a city hall beset by a simmering scandal and partly surrounded by barricades, with decisions looming on a number of fronts.
Returning members of council face continuing questions about the proposed fire-paramedic land swap, the sudden August closure of the Civic Centre Parkade and a looming decision about a new police chief, among other major files.
On Tuesday morning, the first day following the end of prorogation, a steady stream of senior city officials ascended the stairs in the council building on their way to briefings in the mayor's office, where Sam Katz had just returned from a two-week break.
"It wasn't much of a holiday," joked Katz, referring to a 10-day period when both the parkade was shuttered due to structural-integrity concerns and the disclosure of the fire-hall land swap took council by surprise.
He said one of his daughters asked why he was on the phone for hours every day.
This morning, the first post-prorogation meeting of the Katz-led executive policy committee will deal with a call from the General Council of Winnipeg Community Centres for additional millions to maintain community centres and a plan to put off a service-sharing agreement with the RM of Springfield until a previous plan to extend services to West St. Paul is concluded.
Other members of council are demanding to learn more about the fire-hall land swap, find out who will replace Keith McCaskill as police chief and see the water and waste department respond to complaints about new garbage and recycling bins.
River Heights Coun. John Orlikow, an outspoken critic of the fire-hall land swap, said he has concerns about how the city is handling almost every major file. He cited the decision to reject all proposals to buy city-owned golf courses, hiccups in the construction of the new police headquarters and even last spring's abandoned water-park plan as evidence of dysfunction at city hall.
"These projects don't seem to be running smoothly," Orlikow said, insisting council must accept responsibility. "The mayor needs to sit down with council and figure things out because I don't think things are going too well."
The mayor's office has taken steps to beef up on the organizational side by restoring a staff complement depleted by departures. In late August, Destiny Watt, the former executive assistant to St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Fielding, joined the mayor's office as a policy analyst.
Chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl followed suit by naming Etoile Stewart, a former provincial NDP cabinet adviser and government-relations manager for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, as the city's new strategic planning and policy co-ordinator.
Stewart will assist Sheegl and chief operations officer Deepak Joshi in major policy initiatives, Tuesday's announcement said.
"The co-ordinator will provide policy analysis and advice, assist with internal and external communications, work on strategic planning and performance-related initiatives and offer leadership with respect to the management of priority corporate projects," Joshi said in the statement.
The hirings represent an attempt to repair the brain drain caused by a purge of analysts that took place four years ago, when the city dissolved the executive policy committee secretariat, its former policy office, and assigned the department's staff to other duties.