Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–7–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Buchko drops ball on stadium tour

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If it was Garth Buchko's objective on Monday to embarrass the commissioner of the CFL, disrespect the taxpayers of this province and -- in front of the premier of the province and mayor of the city -- make the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' off-field operation resemble a monkey having relations with a football, well then -- well done.

Buchko has had many fine days for the Bombers since he left CJOB to take over the reins as Bombers CEO and the general consensus of the people around him is that he is exactly the bold kind of leader the Bombers need at exactly the right time in the history of this organization.

But Buchko's also still got some things to learn. And what became crystal clear in a hopelessly botched media event Monday morning at the club's new stadium project is that one of the things Buchko still needs to learn is that he's the head of a community-owned organization moving into a new building paid for almost entirely by the taxpayers and not the duke of some private fiefdom.

Here's the setting: Buchko has had his media relations director, Darren Cameron, invite all the media in town out to the new stadium construction site on Monday morning to take pictures of Buchko touring the site with CFL commissioner Mark Cohon, Premier Greg Selinger and Mayor Sam Katz.

The media reports for duty and Cameron -- to whom, as we'll soon learn, Buchko has effectively handed a live hand grenade and then asked him to juggle it while riding a unicycle -- has the unfortunate duty to tell the assembled reporters that no one is allowed to ask any questions. Of anyone. Period.

This is, of course, absurd and never, ever going to happen. It has been a month, after all, since the Bombers have provided a construction update on their oft-delayed, publicly funded megaproject out at the U of M and the media is, of course, going to be looking for a construction update, particularly with the Bombers having just started training camp and the commissioner in town.

So the Free Press informs Cameron that questions are going to be asked whether the team likes it or not and a compromise is struck whereby it's agreed that Cohon -- but no one else, not Selinger, not Katz and certainly not Buchko -- is going to answer media questions about a project with $190 million of taxpayer money invested in it.

Always the gentleman, Cohon takes the hot seat in front of the assembled jackals and answers the questions Buchko should be answering. But the problem is that all Cohon knows is what the Bombers have told him and -- unfortunately for Cohon -- it quickly emerges the Bombers haven't told him everything.

"What they've told me is they are still on schedule for the Sept. 21 date and they're working hard to see if they can make the Sept. 9 date," Cohon tells reporters.

The problem is Cohon is barely done speaking when some reporters corner a nice man named Rick Graumann, who is the vice-president of Stuart Olson Construction and has apparently not gotten the memo from Buchko that no one except Cohon is talking about the stadium today.

As Buchko looks on helplessly, Graumann is quickly swarmed by media and does what Buchko should have done all along -- he truthfully answers questions about the status of the stadium construction. And the truth about whether the stadium will be ready in September hurts.

"We've had some challenges the last few weeks with the heavy rain and the high winds," Graumann tells reporters. "(An opening in September) will be a challenge, but as I say, we're looking at that right now...

"We've had some very tough weather conditions the last couple weeks that have shut us down quite literally. Heavy rains and high winds. We're in the process of evaluating the schedule at this stage... We're doing everything we can to accelerate and mitigate some of those issues with weather."

Graumann then adds that he's still "hopeful" the deadline can be met by bringing in extra crews and extending working hours.

At that point, the media sets its sights on Buchko again, who responds to the advancing mob by walking away and calling out, "Darren!" in hopes his media relations guy will rescue him.

Alas, Cameron is on his unicycle juggling that grenade, remember, and therefore unavailable to assist his CEO to undo a mess that has been entirely his own making.

And so finally Buchko relents, although only just barely. Cornered by a couple reporters, Buchko is asked if the September opening is now in doubt. "I wouldn't say that yet," said Buchko. "We're getting, later on this week, an up-to-date assessment."

Asked if he'd like to make any further comment, Buchko says no but then finally relents last night. In a phone interview with the Free Press, Buchko defends his conduct earlier in the day by saying as far as he was concerned, the event was only ever supposed to be a "photo-op" and he didn't feel obligated to take any questions.

"It wasn't a stadium update conference," said Buchko. "I had nothing to report. The latest status report I had (last Friday) -- (an opening date of) September 21st, there was absolutely no issue."

Buchko says the comments on Monday by Graumann -- that there had been recent significant "challenges" that were creating some uncertainty about that worst-case September opening date -- came entirely as news to him.

"I can honestly tell you what Rick said was news to me," said Buchko. "And given that, I'm not going to comment on something I haven't heard."

Of course, the fact is Buchko had decided he wasn't commenting to the media long before Graumann ever stepped forward and so it's a bit disingenuine to suggest that's why he wouldn't answer questions about the stadium yesterday.

Whatever the case, just like Cohon had to do earlier in the day, it was left to Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice to fill in for his CEO. Asked after practice Monday afternoon if the possibility of yet another delay in stadium construction could pose a distraction to the club he is attempting to assemble right now, LaPolice sounded almost as resigned as the rest of us.

"We always believe," said LaPolice, "in worrying about what you can control, just like the weather.

"Certainly none of us are organized enough to be able to build a stadium."

LaPolice was talking just about the football operations people, of course. But he could have been speaking much more broadly on Monday.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 5, 2012 D1

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