Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bite of the gadfly

Former bureaucrat has made it his life's work to hold city hall accountable

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Retired civil servant David Sanders gets under the skin of city hall administration with his critiques of policies, politicians and administration.

EMILY CUMMING / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Retired civil servant David Sanders gets under the skin of city hall administration with his critiques of policies, politicians and administration. Photo Store

Gadfly: 1. A cattle-biting fly, esp. a warble fly, horsefly or botfly. 2. A person who repeatedly criticizes or harasses others, esp. those in authority.

 

A retired provincial bureaucrat has become the gnat under the skin of city hall administrators and many of its politicians.

David Sanders, 67, seems to spend most of his waking hours presenting briefs at council and committee meetings; or at his home, where he hones those finely crafted essays that dissect the seemingly inept policies and actions of city hall's administrators and politicians.

Sanders has been a regular presence at city hall for the past year, attracted there, he says, because of the incomprehensible decision to detour a rapid transit route through a barren field that can only benefit a developer who was given the property by the same people at city hall who determined the route.

Over the past few months, his obsession, and criticisms, have been focused on the administration's inability to produce reports as requested by council and various committees.

"I do choose my words carefully," Sanders said of the briefs that regularly slam administrators and politicians with the force of a heavy hammer.

Sanders' targets have included: police Chief Devon Clunis, for the alleged lack of specifics and details in many of his reports; the city's inability to post the 2010-12 collective agreement with the police association and the city's tardiness in hiring outside professionals tasked with auditing the various property and real estate deals that have bedeviled city hall.

Last week, however, Sanders' criticisms at the finance committee meeting were too much for chief financial officer Mike Ruta, who, in his own mild-mannered way, lashed out at the man who had twice risen to the post of deputy minister in the provincial government.

There were eight items on the finance agenda, but there were written reports for only three of the items, and one of the reports was essentially a duplication of a report submitted the month before.

There was no written report on the most anticipated item on the agenda -- an update on the dedicated transit corridor plan. Instead, transit director Dave Wardrop gave a verbal report.

Sanders said the lack of written reports is unacceptable.

"I asked to appear as a private citizen this morning to continue to voice my concern that the Winnipeg public service is continually failing to respond to council and committee requests for analyses and reports on time, or at all," Sanders told the committee members.

"If the civic administration requires more staff to support the public decision-making system and accountability procedures, then let's discuss that," said Sanders. "If there is a good reason for requesting a particular time extension, let's hear it. But I think just refusing to show up is just cause."

Ruta told the committee members Sanders' attacks are baseless.

"It's really important to advise our residents that the public service takes pride in providing services with integrity," Ruta said as the committee meeting was wrapping up. "I take exception to Mr. Sanders' statements undermining the work being done by the public service.

"For this reason, I'd like to register my concerns publicly," Ruta said. "Also, I would ask our elected officials and council to keep this in mind in future if the public service is criticized on the basis of conjecture or without accurate support."

Coun. Paula Havixbeck, a member of the finance committee, said Sanders is a welcome presence at city hall, describing him as a direct, straight-talking individual who doesn't use subjective or colourful language in his submissions.

"His comments are very factual," Havixbeck said. "Perhaps he says some things that some people don't want to hear. But I think it's important that he continue to come to city hall and express his views."

Sanders said he was surprised by Ruta's reaction but remains unapologetic for his actions.

"If (Ruta) thinks anything I say is untrue, I'd like to hear it," Sanders said. "I'm very disappointed in what I see and hear, and I have concerns that things start to get better at city hall, not worse."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

His most pointed barbs

SEPT. 12, 2013 REPORT TO FINANCE:

"I would have liked to comment on some or all of the above reports listed on the committee's agenda, but unfortunately none of these... documents are posted on the city's website even now... As a longtime public administrator, I am shocked at what I see, or rather, don't see at city hall these days. There appears to be no oversight, no transparency and little accountability for major decisions, which have far-reaching consequences for us all."

NOV. 7, 2013 SUBMISSION TO FINANCE:

"I have been appearing here at city hall since this spring, urging councillors to retake control of the Winnipeg public service, which has seemed to be ignoring your instructions and directions with impunity and engaging in some very questionable business."

NOV. 8, 2013 SUBMISSION TO THE WINNIPEG POLICE BOARD:

"Originally I was going to attempt to provide a detailed commentary on the Matrix Report. However, it appears to be a singularly unimpressive piece of work."

FEB. 14, 2014, SUBMISSION TO PUBLIC WORKS:

"Why on earth is it necessary to make access-to-information requests, appeal to the ombudsman, appeal to our apparently powerless councillors, seek council approval and then be sidetracked to this committee, just to get our civic administration to release information such as this (Stantec) Traffic Study (on the Route 90 fire hall) for a matter of considerable public concern.

"If the administration thought it was important enough to spend our taxpayers' money on, then we should be entitled to see what we paid for.

"I trust that today this committee will not allow this continuing stonewalling and cover-up by an administration which seems to think that the public's business is none our of business."

MARCH 12, 2014, SUBMISSION TO EXECUTIVE POLICY COMMITTEE:

"I strenuously object to what I perceive to be a thoughtless or deliberate effort by the (Winnipeg Police Service) and civic administration to ignore the new budgetary responsibilities and legislative authority of the Winnipeg Police Board, and to carry on business as if the board does not exist."

MARCH 26, 2014 SUBMISSION TO EXECUTIVE POLICY COMMITTEE:

"For six months, I have been asking why the City of Winnipeg has failed to finalize the text of the WPA collective-bargaining agreement covering the period Dec. 24, 2010 to Dec. 23, 2012, and to post it on the Corporate Support Service public web page. That agreement has still not been published 15 months after it expired. Why not?"

APRIL 10, 2014 SUBMISSION TO FINANCE:

"According to the press, civic officials were asked to attend this meeting this morning to report on (the rapid transit project), refused, and then were persuaded to appear after all. As a very interested citizen, I would suggest that council issue a stop order to all involved with these projects right now, until council can regain some control over this crazy scheme."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 14, 2014 B1

History

Updated on Monday, April 14, 2014 at 6:45 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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