Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Katz absent, but councillor at Nov. 11 service

Mayor in U.S., sources say

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THE mayor's office will not say where Sam Katz was on Remembrance Day, maintaining a long-standing policy of refusing to disclose his whereabouts when he travels for personal reasons.

On Nov. 11, Katz was not present at the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal attended the ceremony in his place.

Several sources placed the mayor in Phoenix, Ariz., where he spends an undisclosed number of weekends every year. On Tuesday, Katz declined to say where he spent the long weekend.

"There was representation from the City of Winnipeg," Katz said during a CJOB radio call-in show, referring to the Remembrance Day ceremony. "The mayor can't be everywhere."

Katz declined Free Press interview requests this week, but his office claims he attends more events on an annual basis than did his predecessors, Susan Thompson and Glen Murray. In 2010, Katz received 1,146 invitations to attend events and accepted 201 of them, said Brad Salyn, the mayor's communications director.

"The mayor has attended Remembrance Day ceremonies before and will attend ceremonies in the future," Salyn said.

As a matter of policy, the mayor's office discloses when the mayor is travelling on city business but will not entertain questions about the mayor's personal travel. Katz's office maintains his personal travel is not a matter of public interest.

"It has never been an issue, given the mayor is never out of contact. Even when he was on his honeymoon, we spoke with him," said chief of staff Bonnie Staples-Lyon, referring to a 2010 holiday in Costa Rica. "We are following the same process as every other mayor, according to the clerk's office."

There are no rules at city hall that require the mayor to disclose his whereabouts. The city charter does not demand the mayor sign over his authority or notify the city clerk before he leaves Winnipeg.

"He never talks to me. He doesn't have to advise me," city clerk Richard Kachur said of Katz's travels, adding he believes the mayor would advise St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel, the deputy mayor.

Swandel said the mayor lets him know informally, either in person or over the phone.

In the mayor's absence, the deputy mayor assumes the mayor's powers, but the charter does not say anything specific about this process, Kachur said.

The transfer of mayoral authority is an emerging issue in a world where political business can be conducted remotely, via BlackBerry, iPad or iPhone.

Earlier this year in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg came under fire for being absent without informing his colleagues, especially in the wake of a crippling blizzard.

After the Wall Street Journal reported Bloomberg's private plane flew to Bermuda 54 times between 2007 and 2010, Coun. Peter Vallone Jr. introduced a bill to demand the mayor notify the city clerk when he leaves New York City and also designate a deputy during his absence.

The effort failed after Bloomberg bristled at the suggestion he should disclose his whereabouts.

"The mayor has to be able to have a private life and not disclose where he is," Bloomberg told CBS television. "We set a policy Day 1, we're going to tell you whenever there's a public event and I can guarantee that the mayor is always in control."

Questions about the whereabouts of Winnipeg's mayor, meanwhile, have dogged Katz since his election in 2004.

Last January, after Katz was absent from the city following a mayoral gathering in Regina, Katz told reporters he visited Calgary and met with Mayor Naheed Nenshi. Apologetic officials later clarified Katz stopped in Calgary on his way to Phoenix and merely ran into Nenshi at the airport.

At the time, several members of executive policy committee expressed concern about the political fallout for Katz if the public ever learned how often he was in Arizona. Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt, who was not on EPC then, described the Phoenix trips as "no secret" to city council or staff.

In the wake of the mayor's refusal to disclose how often he travels to Arizona, the Free Press filed a freedom of information request to find out how often the mayor told the deputy mayor or acting deputy mayor he was leaving the city, via email or in an actual note, during his first seven years in office.

No such records exist, the mayor's office said in response.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 16, 2011 A3

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