Sam Katz has just completed his ninth year as mayor -- and the 10th year could be his last. He has yet to declare if he will run again in the upcoming 2014 civic election. And as difficult as 2012 was, 2013 appears to have been his worst year in office: His close friend Phil Sheegl was blamed by the Ernst & Young audit for the mishandling of the fire-hall replacement program; and his cabinet, members of executive policy committee, blamed Sheegl publicly for keeping them in the dark about the escalating costs at the police headquarters project. Two senior public servants, fire Chief Reid Douglas and entomologist Taz Stuart, were dismissed under mysterious circumstances with no explanation. Katz continues to be dogged by allegations of ethical improprieties -- Joe Chan and the court cases; his relationship with the Shindlemans; and their relationship with city hall.
FP: What are your priorities from now until election day?
SK: I'll repeat what I've said in the past: No.1 is our infrastructure -- not just the roads, bridges, back lanes and the sidewalks; it also includes community centres, libraries, fire halls, swimming pools -- all the facilities where the city provides the amenities to the public. Many of them have been left in a state of ill repair as a result of neglect over the last two to three decades. We'll be building a lot of new ones and making a significant investment in our roads, both regional and local.
We want to make sure Winnipeg continues on the economic high, where new companies want to come to our city, to either establish a new business, create employment. We have a great source of labour. We make sure if there are jobs, people will want to come here as well.
FP: You haven't committed yet to running for re-election in 2014. What factors or situations would prevent you from running again?
SK: The reason I haven't committed is it's far too early.
In my previous elections, I've never done anything until basically Labour Day. There's no reason to change that plan and I'll decide on my terms when I discuss it with my wife. I've got a wife with three young children. We're managing to balance things -- some days it's more difficult than others, some days it's easy. We'll just have to see how things go. I won't make a decision probably until getting into the summertime. It's not like people don't know my name.
FP: It seems to me there is a break or disconnect between city hall and the Selinger government. What caused that and how can it be fixed?
SK: I'm not sure I agree with you. We work together on many projects. Just recently, we stood side by side and announced (the extension of) rapid transit. We do a lot of things together -- we worked on the football stadium. We have a great relationship, but if the city is looking for money, then it's a different scenario because the province is also looking for money. I wouldn't call that a disconnect. In fact, most people will state emphatically yours truly has a better relationship with the provincial government than both of the last two mayors.
FP: What do you see happening with the Civic Parkade and the Public Safety Building?
SK: The Civic Parkade will probably see demolition some time in the future. It's unfortunate, but that's probably the reality and then, hopefully, some new development will come up there. The Public Safety Building I believe will be taken over at some point in time by what we would call our city hall campus. We'd have another department there that's out somewhere renting space, put them in a building we own.
FP: So, once the parkade has been demolished, the space would be sold to private interests?
SK: Down the road possibly what we would do is put out an expression of interest and see what kind of ideas come from it. Whether it's a commercial office, residential, a parkade, or a combination of all three, you have to see what ideas will be coming from it.
FP: Rapid transit. You secured funding for the second phase to the U of M. Is it still realistic to consider a second line to Transcona?
SK: I think it's realistic to consider the eastern leg, that certainly would be the next priority. And, keep in mind, this is based on you want to get the public easy access to downtown and moving to other areas. Plus, there is an opportunity that would create a lot more development as a result of that line there. You also look to see where the greatest opportunity is for development, which obviously broadens your tax base, which is extremely important.
FP: Let's move on to the budget. To balance the 2014 budget, you raided reserves for millions of dollars and took dividends from special operating agencies -- both practices Susan Thompson and Glen Murray had stopped because they said it was poor fiscal planning. To finance capital projects, you are placing the city into greater debt. How do you defend these moves?
SK: We tried getting one per cent of the seven points of the PST. That didn't happen. If we had gotten that, we wouldn't need this increase, we might not have needed the .95 per cent property tax increase but we didn't get that.
We tried getting some money from motor-vehicle registration, we tried getting money from land-transfer tax, we tried getting money from everything that relates to this but the province continually said no. You just can't sit around and do nothing. You can't pretend you're an ostrich and bury your head in the sand as if there is nothing wrong and watch the streets to continue to deteriorate. You need to do something and this is what we're doing.
FP: The fire-hall audit and the report into the police-headquarters project revealed senior public servants withheld vital information that should have been shared with council yet no one from EPC has publicly asked for an explanation for their actions. Why hasn't the public service been required to explain their actions?
SK: Let's talk about the fire-hall scenario: First of all, it's a situation in my opinion that should not have taken place. There are some things that happened there that I am very disappointed in; most specifically, that we built a fire hall on land that we don't own.
FP: It seems the public service deliberately, for whatever reason, kept council in the dark and I don't understand it. I would think you and other members of council would find this frustrating.
SK: I would say to you, beyond frustrating; it's much beyond frustrating the way we find it. It's way beyond that.
FP: What steps have you taken to ensure these individuals either don't make the same mistake again, withholding information, or aren't around to do that.
SK: I can assure you all members of the administration are walking on rice paper right now, making sure all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed, and looking at every financial aspect. The other situation is to make sure we do follow a proper process and get all the information right from the beginning.
FP: This appears to have been your worst year in office. Your friend Phil Sheegl was blamed by the Ernst & Young audit for the mishandling of the fire-hall replacement program. Two senior public servants were dismissed under mysterious circumstances. You continue to be dogged by allegations of ethical improprieties. It appears in the public eye you are seriously tainted. What will you do to get out from under that?
SK: Well, first of all, a lot of that is not accurate. If a senior official is let go, that has nothing to do with the mayor and council; that has to do totally with the administration and human resources. We don't have any role to play in that. My role in that is as much as your role. That's not what the mayor and council are for. Obviously, some members of the media will try and play that scenario and that's their prerogative.
It's interesting you bring up Joe Chan. Let's talk about credibility. If you're asking me if there is any merit to Mr. Chan, the courts have already decided that. In the end, as far as I am concerned, there is closure. It's all over.
FP: What about your relationship with the Shindlemans?
SK: There is no relationship with the Shindlemans. The facts of life are, it's no secret from day one that they were involved with the Winnipeg Goldeyes. Everybody's known that, that's on the record. And they also know as of a few months ago, they aren't. Here's what people have to realize: Shindico was doing business with the City of Winnipeg when Glen Murray was mayor. Shindico was doing business with the City of Winnipeg when Susan Thompson was mayor. They will continue to do business with the City of Winnipeg because they're good at what they do. End of story. It's just that simple.
FP: Last year for the year-end article, when asked about Phil Sheegl, you told the Free Press: "There are many councillors who tell me he's been terrific." What a difference a year makes. Do you regret bringing Phil Sheegl to city hall or that he was promoted to CAO?
SK: Number One, he wasn't promoted; he applied for the job and he was considered to be the best candidate by outside professionals, as well as EPC and the majority of council. No different then Glen Laubenstein before him or the previous CAO. That's the way it's always been. I certainly regret what took place with the fire halls. No question about that. No question about that.
FP: Are there any positive developments at city hall that weren't tainted with controversy or allegations of misconduct?
SK: If you look at what's going on in the city, it's basically all positive and it's not tainted with anything.
Just look at what we've done with libraries. Look what we've done with community centres.
Look at the Disraeli Bridge, a bridge that was falling apart, won an award for the best managed project. Look at Chief Peguis (trail extension). Look anywhere in the city, you'll see good things happening.
Look at the fact this council is focused on repairing our infrastructure, something that was ignored forever and ever. Look at the great work we're doing with the aboriginal community, which can be our greatest asset if we embrace it and get training for them out there. These are things we are actually doing, these are things nobody talks about. Good things don't get a lot of coverage, whereas if something is perceived to be bad, or is bad, it certainly will get coverage.
This interview was conducted on the morning of Dec. 9. It has been edited and condensed.