Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Politically tone-deaf mayor clueless on ethics matters

Katz missed chance to show remorse

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Instead of hosing down the streets of Winnipeg this spring, the city should go out and get a big, fat bottle of hand sanitizer.

In the words of Queen's Bench Justice Brenda Keyser, this city's mayor "exhibited bad political and ethical behaviour" when he spent taxpayers' money at his own restaurant, while the citizen who complained about the incident displayed "egregious" behaviour of his own and came to court with "unclean hands."

The bizarre conflict-of-interest case launched by restaurateur Joe Chan against Mayor Sam Katz has left this city with no unqualified winners and plenty of losers.

Chief among the folks wearing a massive "L" on their forehead this morning is Chan, who was figuratively slapped upside the head on Friday when he was ordered to pay $10,000 in court costs after Keyser declined to declare Katz in conflict for spending $3,084.35 worth of public funds at a 2010 Christmas party at Hu's Asian Bistro, a now-defunct Polo Park-area restaurant the mayor used to own.

Chan was stuck with the tab for a series of weird moves, which included telling tales out of school about a settlement offer, trying to convince former mayoral candidates Rockin' Ron and Natalie Pollock -- yes, the one-time cable-access TV hosts -- to say they learned of that offer from another source and then suggesting Katz's lawyer, Robert Tapper, may have been the source of the alleged leak.

Had Chan simply gone to court to seek a conflict-of-interest declaration and lost, without engaging in bizarre shenanigans, the court costs likely would have amounted to about $300.

Katz, however, did not emerge from this episode unscathed, as Keyser's ruling did not place a halo on the mayor's head. As she noted, the facts of the case were not in dispute: Katz quite clearly spent public money in a restaurant he owned.

What Keyser did was determine the Manitoba Municipal Conflict of Interest Act does not clearly govern a Christmas party, based on the wording of Sec. 16 of the act. Keyser also took note of Sec. 21, which allows judges the discretion to avoid making a conflict-of-interest declaration.

Even if she had found Katz in conflict, she would have used that discretion on Friday, noting the penalty -- removal from office -- would create the need for a mayoral race that would cost taxpayers far more than $3,000.

But just to make sure nobody was unclear about the bigger picture, she told Tapper his client behaved badly, both politically and ethically, and suggested voters will consider that behaviour the next time they go to the polls.

Katz didn't attend the court case so he didn't get to hear Justice Keyser's opinion of his behaviour. But when he had a chance to say a few remorseful words about his own poor judgment, the mayor chose to focus solely on the fact he was not declared in conflict and is not losing his seat.

"That's the end of it. There's really not more to discuss after that," said the mayor, clearly taking pains not to dignify a lawsuit both he and Tapper took great pains to describe as frivolous.

For Katz, this presented a missed opportunity. He could have played the role of magnanimous victor by expressing a few words of remorse for spending public money at his own shop. He could have promised not to make such a move again.

He could have done something to placate the multitudes of ordinary people who don't appreciate the legal nuances of Justice Keyser's logical and methodical decision and simply want to see the mayor acknowledge he did something wrong.

Possibly because Chan and his lawyer, David Matas, could launch an appeal, Katz did not offer the citizens of Winnipeg so much as a bone in this regard. By failing to do that, he painted a little "L" on his own forehead, showing the city he remains politically tone-deaf, if not outright clueless when it comes to basic matters of ethical conduct.

Nobody can describe Sam Katz as a stupid man. He can be a shrewd negotiator and excellent tactician. But year after year, time after time, he seems to miss the opportunity to make amends for miscues.

Asked whether the Christmas-party spending was worth risking his mayorship, Katz wouldn't acknowledge he just had a close call.

That may be the saddest result for the remaining losers in this sordid little story: the citizens of Winnipeg, who are stuck with a mayor too stubborn to concede any ethical transgression and a would-be "anti-corruption" crusader with even bigger ethical problems.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 6, 2013 A5

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Updated on Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 10:04 AM CDT: adds video

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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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