Mayor Sam Katz defended his plan to reform how appointments are made to the powerful executive policy committee.
Katz said this morning his reform package will put to rest the idea that EPC consists of a single-minded cabinet of councillors who dictate decisions to the rest of council.
"I personally don’t believe this (reform) will make any difference," in decision-making at city hall, Katz said. "The mayor has to build consensus."
Winnipeg city council now operates under the ‘strong mayor’ model, adopted in a major governance reform pushed through with much controversy by former mayor Susan Thompson in the late 1990s.
Under the current structure, the mayor appoints members of EPC, which consists of the chairpersons of the five standing committees – finance, public works, downtown development, property and development, protection and community services – and a sixth councillor; one of whom the mayor also appoints as deputy mayor.
Before Thompson’s reform, councillors elected the chairpersons of the standing committees and a deputy mayor, who often emerged as a rival to the elected mayor.
Increasingly in the past 10 years, Katz was accused of orchestrating decision-making on council by controlling the seven votes from EPC along with the support of the votes of Speaker and deputy-speaker, who supposedly were elected with the backing of the mayor and his EPC members.
Councillors appointed to EPC get a salary top-up, cited as one way the mayor can entice and cajole support.
Katz always denied he was pulling the strings and there have been many times when EPC members broke ranks with him on major issues; but, just as often, members of EPC also seemed to vote as a block.
Katz’s reform proposes to have the mayor appoint three members of EPC and all of council appoint the remaining three members.
The plan would require the province to amendment the City of Winnipeg Charter. The proposal goes to council for consideration at the end of the month.
Another proposal for governance reform
Katz’s proposal is not the only reform package targeting executive policy committee. Coun. Paula Havixbeck has proposed a far more comprehensive reform of council governance and has made it part of her campaign for mayor.
Havixbeck was a member of Katz’s EPC but removed in a very public manner because of her criticism of the decision-making of the group.
Havixbeck’s reform proposal would disband the current five committees and replace them with four; chairmanship and membership of each committee would rotate, so every councillor will chair each committee once during their four-year-term.
The salary top-up given to EPC members would be distributed among all councillors.
The committees would meet once a month, as they do now, but council would meet four times a month; two meetings would be devoted to committee reports; one meeting would be a public hearing for planning issues; the fourth meeting would be devoted to issues proposed by the councillors and mayor.
Havixbeck’s reform will be debated at the June council meeting. The initiative can either be killed or sent to another committee for discussion and recommendation – the same process that Katz’s proposal went through.