Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sheegl clears the deck

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Phil Sheegl did the right thing in resigning as chief administrative officer. It would be premature, however, to assume his departure is evidence that the pending release of a forensic property audit will show he is guilty of wrongdoing or neglect. In fact, he should have stepped down years ago.

Mr. Sheegl was a controversial and frequently unpopular official since he was hired in 2008 as director of the city's property department.

Some councillors believed the former real estate salesman and developer was not qualified for the job -- he had no public-sector experience -- and that his hiring was linked solely to his personal and business relationships with Mayor Sam Katz.

Within six months, however, he was named deputy chief administrative and CAO in 2011, and the controversies continued to pile up.

Many councillors were openly critical of him and several called for his resignation, particularly after he sold a shell company he owned to Mayor Katz for $1.

His reluctance, or inability, to explain how the city built a fire hall on land it did not own and other questions about property transactions angered councillors and the general public.

The city's previous three CAOs had relatively low profiles, but Mr. Sheegl's name, fairly or not, became associated with every misstep and botched venture at city hall.

The last straw was the abrupt firing of fire chief Reid Douglas, who was involved in the controversial fire-hall deals. A majority of councillors said it was both suspicious and inappropriate that such a key witness was sacked within weeks of the audit's release.

It may well be that the city acted appropriately in dismissing Mr. Douglas, and it could also be true that while Mr. Sheegl is the accountable official for everything that happened at city hall, he did nothing illegal or unethical.

His resignation was necessary, however, because he had simply lost the confidence of council. It is also hard to imagine how he could continue to work with officials who have criticized him relentlessly.

Mayor Katz defends his friend, saying he actually saved the city millions of dollars in manoeuvring behind the scenes. Maybe so, but even he must realize Mr. Sheegl's relationship with city council is poisoned beyond repair.

Mr. Sheegl could have delayed his resignation until after the release of next week's audit, but that would have raised the same questions and innuendo, regardless of the report's findings.

The city's next CAO should be a person with superior leadership skills and the ability to create and maintain effective long-term working relationships with elected and appointed officials.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 18, 2013 A12

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Updated on Friday, October 18, 2013 at 12:04 PM CDT: Corrects typo

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