Ethics debate returns to city hall


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/02/2009 (4920 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

An ethics debate is finally coming to city hall, almost five months after the Riverside Park affair drove a wedge between Mayor Sam Katz’s supporters and critics on city council.

On Wednesday, council is slated to hear a pair of competing motions to create more accountability and ethical oversight at city hall. Both plans were hatched during the heat of a 2008 controversy over a parking lot Winnipeg once leased to Riverside Park Management, a non-profit organization that sublets city land to the Katz-owned Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball club.

Back in September, Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi authored a motion to ask the province to create tougher conflict-of-interest guidelines for the city of Winnipeg, while St. Vital Coun. Gord Steeves proposed city hall hire a new accountability commissioner.

The competing plans were supposed to wind up on the floor of council in October, but an expected showdown was averted when Old Kildonan Coun. Mike O’Shaughnessy sent both ideas over to council’s Secretariat Committee, a relatively arcane body that governs rules and regulations.

Now, the Riverside Park affair is back before councillors at a time when none of Winnipeg’s elected officials really want to revisit the issue, even though ethics remains a concern for some of them.

"Laying it over was a way of avoiding discussion during the heat of the moment," said Gerbasi, who doesn’t plan to dredge up details of last September’s parking-lot debate. "I’m trying not to focus on specific incidents. I’m not trying to accuse people of anything. What I am trying to do is relieve public concern about ethics at city hall, and there is public concern."

Nevertheless, Gerbasi is willing to speak about certain incidents, as she cites last week’s erroneous listing of the Winnipeg Square Parkade — arguably the city’s most valuable commercial asset — as the latest issue to raise her eyebrows.

"It was supposed to be a mistake, but I don’t even know how that can happen," she said, of realtor Shindico’s briefly advertised parkade sale.

Meeting behind closed doors in January, council’s Secretariat Committee decided to send Gerbasi’s conflict-of-interest plan back to council without making any recommendations about it.

But the same committee decided to shelve all but one aspect of Steeves’ accountability motion, except for a plan to ask the city’s chief administrative officer to create a new whistle-blower hotline for city employees.

Steeves, who said he hatched the accountability plan last fall as a means of getting past the Riverside Park debate, said he isn’t sure what to make of the Secretariat’s closed-door decision.

"There are pretty divergent feelings across council on this," he said on Monday. "If this represents someone’s genuine attempt to bring everyone together, I’m prepared to look at it."

Katz, meanwhile, is looking forward to "a healthy debate" on the pair of motions on Wednesday, according to a spokesman. "Any time there’s (talk) of improved accountability and transparency at city hall, it’s a good thing," Brad Salyn said. "(But) we would have preferred to have had this debate five months ago."

Like Gerbasi, the mayor appears to have cooled off since September, when he hinted he planned to bring up specific incidents of his own.

"The only thing I can tell you is I’m very much looking forward to (the debate)," he said when originally informed of Gerbasi’s conflict-of-interest motion. "When we talk about integrity and ethics, it will be a wonderful day at city council. I’m looking forward to that."

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