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Disappointed? Then why this delay?

Mayor fails to call special meeting for fire-hall report

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Mayor Sam Katz must call a special council meeting so the report can be released. So far, no meeting.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Mayor Sam Katz must call a special council meeting so the report can be released. So far, no meeting. Photo Store

It's one thing for Mayor Sam Katz to be disappointed with the time it's taken to complete a review into Winnipeg's fire-paramedic station replacement program.

But it's another thing entirely for the mayor's office to further delay the release of the final report into what went wrong with the construction of new fire-paramedic stations in River Heights, Charleswood, St. James and Sage Creek.

Since May, Winnipeggers have eagerly awaited consulting firm Ernst & Young's review of the fire-paramedic-station project, arguably the biggest scandal to bog down city hall during a scandal-plagued 2012.

In September, Katz expressed concern with the time it's taken to complete the review, stating he was "extremely disappointed" it wasn't done before council's summer break.

As it turned out, part of the delay in completing the review was a simple matter of due process. As city auditor Brian Whiteside explained in September, individuals named in the review had to be given an opportunity to respond to portions of the report that were critical of their actions. Those individuals, however, did not have the ability to change the final document.

That back-and-forth process ended earlier this week when Whiteside told the mayor the review was complete. The public release of the review was slated for Thursday -- but the mayor failed to take the final step required to make that release public.

In order for the report to come out, Katz must call a special meeting of council to table the document. Customarily, this would follow a separate, closed-door council seminar that would allow elected officials see what's in the report a few hours before the public does.

That did not happen this week -- to the frustration of several councillors, some of whom hounded Whiteside into explaining why the release of the report has been delayed, yet again.

"The E&Y report is complete. I have informed the city clerk and the mayor's office that the meetings should be scheduled," Whiteside said Thursday in an email to council.

"I am awaiting the selection of date so E&Y can confirm their availability to travel (from Ottawa) to Winnipeg to attend the meetings."

Translation: The city auditor is ready to release this review any time. However, Mayor Sam Katz has not told city clerk Richard Kachur to schedule the meetings.

This places the responsibility for the latest of many delays squarely in the mayor's office.

"Logistics are being worked out now and as soon as arrangements are made, councillors will receive an invitation to a council seminar," the mayor said Friday in a statement.

One possible explanation for the reluctance of Katz's office to call the meeting is because some members of council, including protection chairman Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands), were out of the country this week.

The chaos created by Wednesday's brief boil-water order for a portion of St. Vital was also floated as an explanation as to why the city wasn't ready to follow through.

So was the pending departure of Katz's chief of staff, Bonnie Staples-Lyon, who will soon leave the mayor's office to assume some form of strategic communication function in the administration building.

Although this news leaked out Thursday -- the same day the fire-paramedic review was expected out -- Staples-Lyon insisted her departure had nothing to do with the delay.

As of Friday, she remained Katz's chief of staff. Before taking that job in 2010, she served as a communications and policy adviser to former premier Gary Filmon in the 1990s and also worked for MTS.

During the past two years, there was evidence of a rift between Staples-Lyon and Katz, who once famously proclaimed he didn't need any advisers.

Staples-Lyon characterized any disagreements she may have had with the mayor as ordinary differences of opinion in a mayor-adviser relationship. Katz has been extremely supportive, she added.

Nonetheless, the mayor is going to need all the strategic advice he can get in the coming months. Not only does the city face the release of the fire-paramedic review and the potential dismissal of senior officials in its wake, but also a potentially damning real estate-transaction audit and a tough 2014 city budget.

Katz must make a decision about whether he wants to run for mayor again next October.

A good start toward that goal will be doing everything in his power to get the review in the public's hands, without further delay.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 A4

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott.

Bartley appears every second Wednesday on CityTV’s Breakfast Television. His work has also appeared on CBC Radio and in publications such as National Geographic Traveler, explore magazine and Western Living.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives
Email: bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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