Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Province, city at odds over ethics watchdog

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MAYOR Sam Katz and the Selinger government are playing Ping-Pong on the issue of a city ethics commissioner.

Katz lobbed the matter to the province Wednesday morning when his executive policy committee supported a motion to set aside funds in the 2014 budget for an ethics commissioner -- as long as the province amends the city charter to give the position the power to investigate and recommend sanctions to council.

But the province lobbed the issue back, saying it won't make the changes the city requests because the city already has those powers.

"The City of Winnipeg charter already gives council the ability to create an ethics commissioner that can recommend sanctions based on the city's code of conduct for council members that includes sanctions as severe as requiring a council member to forfeit his or her seat," the provincial spokesman said.

City officials dispute the province's position and don't understand how they reached that conclusion.

City clerk Richard Kachur said the city charter sections the province cited don't give an ethics commissioner the power to conduct inquiries, compel witnesses to testify, gather all relevant evidence and recommend sanctions to council, including removal from office.

Kachur said the city hoped the province would follow the example set by Ontario, when it gave Toronto the power to set up an office of integrity commissioner with legislative authority to conduct independent investigations.

Katz didn't comment on the province's response but the back-and-forth game is frustrating for Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, who mustered council support in 2009 to create the post of ethics commissioner.

"There's something very broken in the relationship between city council and the province," Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) said. "It doesn't make any sense that there can't be better communication."

Gerbasi said the same pattern emerged in the recent debate on a charge on new developments -- the city says it's needed and not a tax; the province says it is a tax and not needed.

She said Katz lacks credibility in any debate with the province due to a string of city hall scandals involving mismanagement of funds and questionable staff hirings and firings.

She said she hopes the province can be persuaded to listen to the city's position if it's supported by its administrative staff.

Katz said the new position would be created only if the province amended the city charter to give the commissioner authority to conduct investigations and recommend sanctions, including removal from office.

"If we're going to do it, we're going to do it right," Katz said.

The preliminary 2014 budgets are going through a review process and will go to the full city council Dec. 17.

Katz said he envisions a retired judge would accept the role of ethics commissioner and would work on retainer, paid a nominal sum only when asked to investigate allegations.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 5, 2013 A3

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