Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Council ripe for third-party rule?

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The City of Winnipeg is currently going through a management crisis. Deals that have been made by city council and the civic administration over the past three years have been criticized as unethical, immoral and even illegal. Citizens are wrestling with what to do to correct things at city hall.

Outside measures are usually called for when there have been complaints by citizens that they are being denied the services they expect, or that there has been criticism over bad budgeting, fiscal mismanagement, deadlocks on council, poor-quality reporting, cronyism in hiring and exorbitant pay. Examples of all of this taking place at city hall have been reported in the mainstream media recently.

It is interesting to note these are the exact list of circumstances that cause Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to implement the controversial practice of third-party management on First Nations.

First of all, the issue of cronyism has been raised at city hall because Phil Sheegl, who has close personal and professional ties with Mayor Sam Katz, was hired as chief administrative officer for the City of Winnipeg.

Senior administrators should not be hired or promoted without proper qualifications. Whether or not Sheegl's pay was "exorbitant" is a matter of whether or not citizens feel it was proper for Sheegl to earn more than $200,000 a year.

Another prerequisite for third-party management occurs when the chief and council of a First Nation fail to request bids from a number of different suppliers for goods and services, and it is determined too many contracts are being awarded to one particular company. Favouritism appears to have been shown to a handful of private companies through the dealings at city hall.

"Bad budgeting" is another reason for calls for third-party management. It is safe to say cost projections for the new police headquarters are an example of the worst kind of budgeting in any city, anytime, anywhere.

Complaints from band members of a First Nation that they are denied services are very similar to complaints city hall receives about snow removal, roads, garbage collection and other infrastructure failures. Usually this is caused by inadequate funding, poor management or lack of attention to the basic obligation citizens place on their government; First Nations, civic or otherwise.

A community can be brought to a standstill when so many things are going wrong that half the people are throwing accusations around while the other half are defending their actions. This can result in a "deadlocked council," which Aboriginal Affairs lists as another reason for third-party intervention. City council has been constantly deadlocked by differing factions.

It goes on. "Bad reporting" usually involves a lack of transparency and accountability. Citizens of Winnipeg have encountered incredible difficulty finding out what is going on at city hall and we have even gone so far as to conduct a forensic audit, which told us there were a lot of ethical failures at city hall but stopped short of claiming anything illegal has been going on. These kinds of accusations routinely result in co-management or third-party management being imposed on First Nations.

First Nations that have gone through third-party management claim it is not a very cost-efficient way to resolve these issues and it doesn't deal with any of the underlying problems that created them. But if the federal government is going to continue pushing this kind of practice, why should other governments be spared, especially when the actions of some First Nations under third-party management seem to pale in comparison?

The audits that have been performed on city hall have been very limited in scope. Only a broad inquiry, or perhaps the establishment of an independent watchdog, is in order.

Or how about third-party management?


Don Marks is the editor of Grassroots News.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 22, 2014 A9

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