Mayor Sam Katz suffered further embarrassment from the city's "Responsible Winnipeg" ad campaign Friday morning, when a city councillor circulated a photo of slogan from the city-sponsored effort appearing on an electronic sign run by the Katz-owned Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball club.
"Help council get out of the golf business," read the sign that sits on Pioneer Boulevard, on the the south side of the Goldeyes' home field Shaw Park, in a photograph circulated by Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie.
The slogan is part of $90,000 "Responsible Winnipeg" campaign, paid for by the city using funds from executive policy committee's policy and communications budget.
The advertising firm bought the time on the Shaw Park sign by mistake, said Katz spokeswoman Rhea Yates. She said the ad has been removed and no city money was paid to either the Winnipeg Goldeyes or Riverside Park Management, the non-profit corporation that sublets city-owned Shaw Park to the for-profit baseball club.
Eadie nonetheless repeated his assertion Katz and Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt had no authority to spend public money on the Responsible Winnipeg campaign, which urges support for a plan to sell John Blumberg Golf Course and then lease four others to an Ontario firm.
"Clearly Sam Katz and Russ Wyatt are mounting a political campaign on voting to privatize golf course management and sell the golf course in Headingley. I will be using this image from Sam's baseball facility to enhance my request of Speaker (Grant) Nordman to investigate as to whether or not a political campaign can be basically endorsed by the City of Winnipeg before a council vote has been completed," Eadie said in a statement.
Missing logo an oversight: mayor
Several other councillors expressed outrage about the newspaper, radio and transit-bus advertising campaign, calling it a waste of public funds and an attempt to mislead the public into believing an independent organization was supporting the golf-course plan.
Most of the ads in the campaign initially did not feature the City of Winnipeg logo on Thursday and none employed the city's usual blue-on-blue colour scheme. Instead, they were presented as "another initiative of Responsible Winnipeg," a name also employed by a website launched Wednesday.
Mayor Sam Katz said the campaign is intended to counter claims the city is privatizing golf courses and let the public know the golf-services special operating agency loses money every year.
"In the past, I think you've seen a lot of misinformation or inaccurate information out there, so I think the key thing is to make sure the public is aware of all the facts. I think the city should be praised," Katz said Thursday.
The absence of the city logo from the ad campaign was an oversight, the mayor said. "I believe there was a small mistake made and I believe that's been corrected," he said. Later on Thursday, the website was amended to delete the lobbying effort.
The campaign convinced at least one EPC member to vote against the plan to sell the 81-hectare John Blumberg site and sign a 20-year lease with Conestoga, Ont., company GolfNorth Properties to operate and maintain the Harbour View, Kildonan Park, Windsor Park and Crescent Park courses.
"Absolutely not, especially after the city spends $90,000 of real money to convince Winnipeggers that golf courses lose $800,000 annually, which is a fictitious number and not reflected in the consolidated statements of the City of Winnipeg," St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal said in a statement.
Another member of EPC, St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes, announced immediately after the plan was made public on Monday he would vote against it, also questioning the arithmetic used to determine the golf agency loses money.
Committee considers proposal today
Today, council's alternate service delivery committee, chaired by Coun. Russ Wyatt (Transcona), will consider the proposal. The plan requires EPC approval on May 22 and then comes before council as a whole on May 29.
'In the past, I think you've seen a lot of misinformation or inaccurate information out there, so I think the key thing is to make sure the public is aware of all the facts. I think the city should be praised' -- Mayor Sam Katz
A two-thirds majority of councillors will be required to sell the John Blumberg course, which is considered green space. As of Thursday, there were not enough votes to approve the sale. Several councillors remained leery of the golf-course proposal -- and outraged by the Responsible Winnipeg campaign.
Eadie and Daniel McIntyre Coun. Harvey Smith said it was unacceptable for Katz to describe the Responsible Winnipeg campaign as a city effort. They described the $90,000 effort as a pointless exercise that will not change their minds about voting against the golf plan.
Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck said she is not certain how she will vote, but criticized the campaign as a waste of money. So did Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, who will vote against the plan.
The $90,000 for the ad campaign was drawn from the coffers of the city's new office of policy development and communications, which supports EPC, said city spokesman Steve West, adding the ASD committee chairman approved the expenditure.
Like Katz, Wyatt defended the campaign. "We've been hammered for the last eight or nine months by a nasty, malicious and misinformed CUPE campaign, which included TV ads," said Wyatt, referring to spots paid for by the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500, the city's largest union.
CUPE 500 president Mike Davidson shot back that he is amazed Wyatt and Katz will defend a city effort to use public funds to lobby its own elected officials.
"We had our members' permission to fund our campaign. Did they have taxpayers' permission for their campaign?" Davidson asked. "I've seen a lot of things. I have to say I've never seen this before."
Gerbasi went further, calling the campaign unethical. "Citizens are being given the false impression that Responsible Winnipeg is a legitimate community group that cares about an issue. Real advocacy groups that represent real people are not allowed to use the city logo and our web platform," she said in statement.
Wyatt denied there was any attempt to mislead the public, conceding only the city logo should have appeared on the advertisements from the start.
The Canadian Public Relations Society has ethics guidelines that require its members to refrain from representing one interest as another. The marketing firm responsible for the campaign did not respond to interview requests.
Wyatt said he remains optimistic "common sense will prevail," and the golf-course plan will be approved by council on May 29.
"If this goes down to defeat, the public should know which councillors continue to vote against efforts to find efficiencies," he said.