Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mayor needs rules

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The arbitrary control the mayor has over hundreds of thousands of dollars in discretionary spending funds attached to his office presents potential for misuse. The mayor has, at his disposal, money for protocol, promotions and "civic" initiatives. The funds are a lucrative source of spending voters have next to no influence over.

As the Free Press's Jen Skerritt has found, documents show these funds have been tapped since 2006 by Sam Katz to pay for dinner meetings at a restaurant owned by his brother. That is a misuse of taxpayers' funds, despite the fact lax rules at city hall allow it. It is long past due that city hall restricted such discretionary spending.

The largest pot at Mr. Katz's disposal should never have landed in the control of the mayor's office. Initially controlled by a now-defunct secretariat under former mayor Glen Murray, the $500,000 civic initiative fund was transferred by Mr. Katz to his office. At the time, he said he would use it for aboriginal projects, such as inner-city recreation. Oddly, in 2010, he tapped the fund to send $400,000 to the Southdale recreation association.

How a half-million dollars became someone's pet-project kitty is a reflection on the lax control over use of office allowances at city hall.

Further, taxpayers would be justifiably dismayed at his use of the promotional or protocol budget to pay for pricey Christmas parties and meetings with "stakeholders," colleagues and others at his brother's Hu's on First Asian Bistro at Shaw Park.

Mr. Katz has been battling accusations of conflict of interest, and misuse of the power of his office, and he responds with frustration that he must battle such "innuendo." Many taxpayers would ask how it is that the mayor can use public funds to purchase services from a relative's business. It shouldn't, but municipal conflict rules restrict conduct only as it relates to "dependents" of public office holders.

Council needs to pass its own rules prohibiting such activity. Further, it needs to write clear rules on the appropriate amount and the appropriate uses of discretionary funds the mayor needs for protocol, promotions and civic events.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 2, 2012 A8

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