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Disclose outside biz ties: Eadie

Wants city officials to avoid conflicts

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Recent controversy over a city building inspector's freelance work has prompted Winnipeg to probe whether city employees should be required to disclose any side businesses.

On Wednesday, Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski) asked council's executive policy committee to enact a policy that would require certain city employees to disclose any side businesses or shares they own in other companies in order to prevent potential conflicts of interest. Eadie said such a move would allow the city to proactively spot conflicts for employees who make decisions that affect the public, including building inspectors, bylaw enforcement staff and employees who assess the market value of homes.

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Right now, Winnipeg's code of conduct requires employees to self-report any potential conflicts to their managers.

Eadie's call comes less than two months after a city building inspector was embroiled in a building-permit controversy.

In December, the city ordered Hollywood Homes to obtain a new building permit for three properties or demolish them after officials discovered submitted drawings were "deliberately altered" to indicate they were approved by an engineer.

City building inspector Sig Steinhilber was the whistleblower who brought the permit problems to the department's attention.

Hollywood Homes owner Dave Haner alleged he purchased the blueprints with a false engineering seal from InterPro Building Design Service, a company registered to Steinhilber's wife. Haner's allegations sparked an internal city review into building-code compliance, allegations regarding misuse of professional engineering seals and the potential conflict of interest of a city employee.

Steinhilber retired in March.

"It's proactive so it protects people's integrity," Eadie said Wednesday of his request. "This is just a formal process and it's a management tool to avoid real serious problems."

Council's executive policy committee voted in favour of the idea, and city administration is expected to report back on the matter in 60 days.

According to Winnipeg's code of conduct, employees should not engage in any outside business that is likely to interfere with their employment or businesses that could influence or impair the ability to carry out their civic duties.

Other cities, such as Calgary, stipulate employees should avoid involvement with outside interests that conflict with their civic duties and not participate in any decision-making process that affects their private interest or the interests of any relative, business associate or friend.

At least three Canadian cities -- Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver -- do not require civic employees to disclose assets.

Mayor Sam Katz said city policies already require the mayor and members of council to disclose their assets and he thinks asking certain city employees to make similar disclosures would not do any harm.

"I'm not sure there could be any harm," Katz said. "It certainly would not apply to every single city employee."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 4, 2013 A7

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