Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sam shows himself as a 'stranger to the truth'

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It is Mayor Sam Katz's greatest talent as a politician.

No matter what the controversy, or how egregious the allegation, Katz has always remained calm and composed. He doesn't stammer, or sweat, or get caught in inconsistencies.

Even when what he is saying seems to be preposterous, Katz maintains a steady expression and tone. It's one of the reasons why the mayor of Winnipeg has only ever been accused of wrongdoing. He has never been convicted in any court, including the court of public opinion.

But with controversy nipping at his heels on an almost-daily basis, some of the mayor's infamous veneer is starting to crack. And despite his continued flawless denials, we are starting to see the real Katz.

It is the picture of a politician who is, to use the polite parliamentary term, a "stranger to the truth."

The most recent, and most damning proof of this is found in a Free Press story this week about the 2011 hiring of Katz's friend and confidant Phil Sheegl as the city's chief administrative officer.

Katz has consistently maintained he played no direct role in helping Sheegl, a real-estate developer with little experience as a public administrator, win the job as the city's top bureaucrat.

Katz has always said Sheegl was chosen from among 40 candidates by a national search firm based on his qualifications alone.

"I think he's proven that he's gotten to where he's gotten based on qualifications," Katz said in May 2011 when reporters asked him if he had helped his friend and business colleague get the job. "I would like to hope that you, me and everyone else wants to hire somebody based on qualifications and ability, nothing else."

We know now the mayor was dishonest when he made that statement.

Thanks to Free Press reporting, we know eight candidates were recommended by the search firm for consideration by a selection committee made up of the six councillors and the mayor sitting on executive policy committee.

We also know when it came time to pick one candidate, Katz was instrumental in making sure it was Sheegl.

Several of the councillors had reservations about Sheegl; he did not have the requisite 10 years of senior public administration experience. As well, some of the councillors were concerned about Sheegl's personal and business relationships with Katz.

Lobbied

To remedy this, Katz lobbied some to support Sheegl's hiring. Key among them was Coun. Paula Havixbeck, who revealed this week that Katz called twice to convince her to support Sheegl. That was a key move by Katz.

It always seemed reasonable for Katz to recuse himself from the Sheegl decision. Past relationships being what they are, and appearances being what they continue to be, the situation cried out for the mayor to step aside and let others make the final decision.

Again, we know now Sheegl likely would not have become CAO if the decision had been left to others. And given the trail of dysfunction and waste left behind by Sheegl - who resigned his position just two weeks ago -- it is Katz who must bear chief responsibility for all the misery his good friend has brought to city affairs.

The recent audit of contracts awarded to build four new fire-paramedic stations revealed Sheegl was instrumental in guiding the work to a single bidder -- Shindico Realty -- in contravention of city policy.

Concurrent with this melodrama, we have also learned how badly Sheegl managed the construction of a new police headquarters on the site of the former Canada Post building in downtown Winnipeg. The retrofit of the old central postal terminal will now cost the city $211 million. That is $81 million, or 62 per cent, more than preliminary estimates.

Sheegl was celebrated by many of those who worked with him as a bureaucrat who did not fall prey to normal bureaucratic inertia. He was lauded as a deal-maker who could cut through the red tape and get things done. And there is abundant evidence that he did, sometimes to the benefit of the city itself.

However, we also know that along with cutting red tape, Sheegl cut corners and manipulated rules. We know that rather than doing this for the benefit of all citizens, Sheegl was working for the benefit of a few, handpicked citizens.

Those who criticized and opposed Sheegl's hiring are now entitled to shake their heads with righteous indignation. Those who were responsible for stickhandling his application through the supposedly rigorous hiring process should now stand up and take responsibility for what they brought to the city.

One of those who should definitely count themselves in that latter group is Sam Katz. Continued assertions the mayor had no role in Sheegl's hiring are simply no longer sustainable.

It was always hard to believe that Katz had nothing to do with the hiring of his good friend and business partner Phil Sheegl.

And now we know our disbelief was well-founded. Because the mayor wasn't telling the truth.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 8, 2013 B1

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