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Editorials

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mr. Katz strikes out again

Posted: 05/18/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Mayor Sam Katz's taxpayer-funded campaign to promote his personal plan for the future of several Winnipeg golf courses is an abuse of power and more evidence he doesn't have the faintest grasp of public policy principles.

The mayor and his ally-in-chief, deputy mayor Russ Wyatt, have broken just about every rule in the book in their bush-league, hare-brained attempt to manipulate the sale of one golf course and unload the management of four others on to the private sector.

Even the claim that golf courses are losing $800,000 a year may not be true, since the figure doesn't include $600,000 in property taxes and corporate fees that the city's golf agency remits to the city.

Mayor Katz and Coun. Wyatt were apparently concerned there wasn't enough support on council for their plans, so they manufactured a fictitious third-party group with a name out of a George Orwell novel -- Responsible Winnipeg -- to create the impression a citizen coalition was behind them.

The fact the city's logo is (barely) visible on Responsible Winnipeg's advertising and website does nothing to mitigate the deception.

Funding for a $90,000 advertising campaign was drawn from the recently re-established policy-support group for executive policy committee, which was never intended to be used in such an arbitrary and underhanded way, operating outside the normal channels and protocol at city hall.

Coun. Wyatt was apparently the guiding light in these initiatives, but Mr. Katz approved them and he is ultimately responsible. And worse, he's oblivious to the idea anything improper has unfolded.

The icing on the cake in this pathetic tale of incompetence and political hubris, however, was the use of an electronic sign owned by Katz's Winnipeg Goldeyes to push the golf-course plan.

It's been described as a mistake -- some mistake, but it's just the latest in a series by our gaffe-prone mayor, who has repeatedly demonstrated he either doesn't understand, or doesn't care, about rules and optics.

The proposal to sell the Blumberg golf course and outsource management of four others is a reasonable plan for a variety of reasons -- the city auditor and a private consultant have both recommended the city reduce its inventory of golf courses -- but it now seems doomed to failure.

The Blumberg golf course can be declared surplus land with a simple majority vote, but a decision to sell requires the support of two-thirds of council.

Many councillors, possibly even the majority needed to declare the land surplus, would have supported the initiative, but some are balking because of the mayor's failed attempt to bully them.

Instead of their amateur attempt at manipulation, the mayor and Coun. Wyatt should have held a series of consultations and attempted to win public confidence. They should also have sought support from the Rural Municipality of Headingley, where the Blumberg course is located.

If all of that failed to win council's support, well, it's called democracy, Mr. Katz.

Former mayor Glen Murray held public consultations twice in his bid to introduce user fees for garbage pickup and he repeatedly appealed to the public for support, but when it was clear voters didn't want it, he moved on.

Mr. Katz has been mayor for nearly 10 years, more than enough time to learn the ropes and grasp the concept that public policy is something to be pursued within a set of institutional customs and principles.

He seems to think, however, that rules and protocol are barriers to progress, rather than ways of building public confidence and ensuring taxpayer support.

There's another civic election in the fall of 2014, but Mr. Katz's name should not be on the ballot.

The recent fiasco, combined with a series of other controversies and ethical challenges, has left him on the ropes, unable to lead.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 18, 2013 A16

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