Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mayor wary of Arizona query

Shares flight with ex-city CAO on return from jaunt to state

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Arizona tends to be the touchiest of subjects for Mayor Sam Katz, who might wish what happens in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale would remain there.

Throughout his time in office, Winnipeg's mayor has refused to say how many days of the year he spends at a second residence in Scottsdale. His staff has insisted this is a private matter, even though the mayor's whereabouts are a matter of public interest.

Despite Katz's desire to keep the U.S. Southwest on the down low, Arizona has figured prominently in the past four years of his political life.

In 2010, when a routine search of Arizona's Maricopa County records revealed the foreclosure of a Katz-owned Scottsdale home, the mayor declined to discuss it. Given he was first elected partly on the basis of his business acumen, the foreclosure of one his properties was a matter of public interest.

In 2011, after an inquiry about his whereabouts following a gathering of mayors in Regina, Katz chose to suggest he met with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi rather than concede he spent the weekend in Arizona. As it turned out, Katz merely stopped in Calgary en route to Phoenix and had incidental contact with Nenshi along the way.

In 2012, Katz at first lashed out at reporters and then became contrite after it was revealed he paid $1 to purchase an Arizona-based shell company from his friend, Phil Sheegl, Winnipeg's chief administrative officer at the time. Weeks later, he sold the company -- Duddy Enterprises, which happens to share his old nickname, Duddy -- back to Sheegl for $1.

'It was the Valentine's long weekend and I decided to do the right thing and spend a lovely weekend with my wife. In case you have a problem with that, I'm sorry to hear that' -- Mayor Sam Katz

Also in 2012, when it was revealed Katz purchased a different Scottsdale home from the sister-in-law of Winnipeg developer Sandy Shindleman, the mayor declined to say precisely how much he paid. Katz also declined to explain why property-tax bills for this Arizona property had been sent to his Tuxedo residence before the transaction took place.

Throughout this two-year period, Katz intermittently complained media outlets such as the Free Press were subjecting him to undue scrutiny. That's why it's no surprise the mayor continues to refuse to entertain Arizona-related questions.

Last Thursday afternoon, Katz flew to Phoenix. Early Wednesday morning at Richardson International Airport, he returned on a WestJet flight. He strolled out of the international-arrival gate slightly behind Sheegl, who was seated on the same flight one row away from Katz.

The two initially waited together outside the terminal for a private vehicle before Sheegl, apparently accompanied by his wife, said he would grab a cab.

Nine hours later at city hall, Katz told reporters he spent his time in Phoenix with his family and described Sheegl's presence on the return flight as a coincidence.

The mayor would not, however, say how many days a year he spends in Arizona. "It was the Valentine's long weekend and I decided to do the right thing and spend a lovely weekend with my wife. In case you have a problem with that, I'm sorry to hear that," he said in response to the how-many-days-away-per-year question.

"It was a long weekend. There were probably one-third of council that was away on the weekend. I don't think you're asking anybody else what they're doing on the long weekend."

Katz is correct: I did not ask any councillor that question. I also did not ask Katz what he did during his 51/2-day long weekend.

I asked him how many days he spends in Arizona every year. He has never answered this question.

The mayor's physical absence from Winnipeg is, of course, mitigated by mobile communication devices that allow anyone to keep in touch with contacts thousands of kilometres away.

So why refuse to disclose how much time he spends away? The mayor must understand he faces different expectations about his presence in the city he leads than a private citizen or even a city councillor would face.

Many important mayoral functions require face-to-face interaction. It's also important for Winnipeggers to know their mayor walks the same streets and drives the same roads they do. Even though Katz might not run for mayor again, he can expect continuing scrutiny as long as he's in office.

He can also expect continuing interest in his relationship with Sheegl, who resigned from the City of Winnipeg in October amid the furor over Winnipeg's new police headquarters and the fire-paramedic station replacement program.

As the city inches closer to the release of an audit of its major real estate transactions during Sheegl's time as a senior bureaucrat -- and the start of an audit into a police headquarters renovation Sheegl proudly cited as a professional achievement -- the former CAO's presence may be felt far into the future at city hall.

"I would say we're still friends. We just don't see each other a lot, but yeah," Katz said of Sheegl. "I was travelling back by myself. He may have been there with his wife. That's his prerogative. And there were also probably another 240 people on the flight."

The mayor is more or less correct, again: A WestJet 737 can carry about 160 people. In the midst of a frigid Manitoba February, Arizona's appeal is hardly limited to politicians and former bureaucrats.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 20, 2014 0

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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 and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

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


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