No civic administration has ever been immune to controversy, and the current one on Main Street is no exception.
But even for those of us who have never bothered to form an opinion about whether Mayor Sam Katz is doing a good job, something smells a little rotten — rotten enough to make apathetic citizens reconsider their choice not to vote.
Questions have been raised about land swap deals between the city and Shindico Realty that appeared to occur without council’s knowledge. There have also been stories about Katz’s purchase of a vacation property from the relative of his business partner in the Goldeyes baseball club.
Add all of this to the thousands of tax dollars spent on city business for meetings held at restaurants owned by Katz and his brother, a new fire hall, the cost overruns for which were approved by no one, and a chief administrative officer who happens to be the mayor’s good friend and occasional business partner.
Even Mayor Katz’s biggest fans are starting to wonder.
Granted, many of the media reports of the mayor’s business dealings seem like part of a witch-hunt. Does anyone really care how many vacation days the mayor took last year? The day that story ran must have been a slow news day indeed.
Still, anyone who runs for public office should be prepared to live in a fishbowl. When you are paid from the public purse, everything you do, whether or not it is related to your public office, is under scrutiny and must remain beyond reproach. This means it might be best to forgo hiring your friend, even if he happens to be the best man for the job.
Everyone knows Winnipeg has a small town feel. It’s hard to cross a street without meeting someone you know. That is all the more reason to guard against even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Regardless of whether there is any actual wrongdoing happening at city hall, a number of the mayor’s choices seem questionable at best. Perhaps an integrity commissioner can help him sort it out.
Whether Mayor Katz is aware of the optics and doesn’t care, or is simply oblivious, voters will decide next time around, how much real or apparent impropriety they will tolerate. It’s looking more and more like they will not tolerate much. Good thing our mayor has other business interests.
Jennifer Dunsford is a St. James-based writer.
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