Golf courses and political games?

Citizens, groups stuck in middle of spat over city facilities


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Members of a divided city council are trading bitter accusations of manipulating the public and abusing procedure in the name of fomenting or squelching opposition to the redevelopment of up to seven financially troubled city-owned golf courses.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/02/2012 (3937 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Members of a divided city council are trading bitter accusations of manipulating the public and abusing procedure in the name of fomenting or squelching opposition to the redevelopment of up to seven financially troubled city-owned golf courses.

Still smarting from the public-relations ramifications of shooing away more than two dozen citizens who hoped to address a city council committee on Tuesday, five members of city council spent the ensuing day blaming each other — and the city clerk’s office — for a situation described as shameful.

Late last year, the city issued a call for redevelopment ideas for the courses, which collectively contribute to approximately $1 million worth of annual losses for Winnipeg’s Golf Services Special Operating Agency.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS archives Politicians are bickering over why a group of citizens' interested in discussing the fate of several city-owned golf courses was turned away from a city committee Tuesday.

A coalition of labour organizations, community and environmental groups cried foul late last year, prompting opposition Couns. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge) and John Orlikow (River Heights) to launch a failed motion to ensure members of the public have input into the process before a report of recommendations winds up before city council.

Gerbasi and Orlikow moved a second motion, at the community-committee level, to place the public-consultation request on Tuesday’s property and development committee agenda. More than two dozen people registered to speak at the meeting and dozens more visited city hall to observe — only to see the item struck from the agenda due to procedural reasons.

On Wednesday, Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz blasted Gerbasi, Orlikow and the city’s legislative clerks for creating the situation, which he called upsetting and disappointing.

“I don’t care whether it’s two delegations or 22 delegations, (when people) come to city hall to express their views, some of whom have taken time off work or whatever the case may be. I expect the people to have the opportunity to be listened to,” Katz said.

“If there was something wrong with the process or whatever the case may be, that should have been pointed out earlier and all those people should have been notified earlier. I think it’s a shame.”

Katz accused city clerks of failing to notice the Gerbasi-Orlikow motion was out of order for reasons described by city clerk Richard Kachur and property chairman Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) as inappropriate under the city’s organizational bylaw.

However, Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt, who launched the motion to strike the item from the agenda, said the item violated the city’s procedural bylaw.

Nonetheless, Katz, Browaty and Wyatt accused Gerbasi and Orlikow of trying to whip up public sentiment against the redevelopment of golf courses before city staff can complete the task of recommending options for any of the properties in question.

“Quite often, citizens are used as pawns for political gain. Did that happen here? Yes,” said Katz. Both he and Wyatt accused Gerbasi and Orlikow of abusing procedure to drag citizens down to city hall.

Browaty said many people have been filled with visions of “doomsday scenarios” about what would happen to the city properties. But he acknowledged the city has done a poor job of communicating the golf course redevelopment process to the public.

Gerbasi countered the mayor’s allies on council are the ones abusing procedure and she challenged them to point how any city bylaw explicitly prevents the property and development committee from hearing delegations about the sale of city properties.

“You need to talk to people before you sell off green space,” she said.

Kachur, however, said the motion should have sent the item to council’s alternate service delivery committee instead, as the golf-course redevelopment plan originated at that committee. But he conceded there is no reason why the delegates could not be heard at the property committee, whose mandate includes overseeing land sales.

Wyatt, however, cited an entirely different rationale for ruling Gerbasi’s motion out of order. He insisted council procedures prevent the same motion from being debated twice within 60 days.

Gerbasi said she didn’t buy the various explanations. “They’re using process as an excuse,” she said. “They sent a very bad message to the public, that we don’t want to hear you. Well, the people who came down had genuine, real concerns. They weren’t saying ‘don’t sell off golf courses.’ They just wanted to be heard.”

The report is due before council within six weeks, said alternate service delivery chairman Scott Fielding (St. James). He said he expects recommendations to redevelop at least one or two of the courses but not all seven.

What’s the problem?

IN late 2011, the city issued an expression-of-interest document to developers who might want to buy, lease or repurpose seven financially troubled city-owned golf courses. Some labour, environmental and community groups expressed concern they were being left out of the process.

At January’s council meeting, Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi and River Heights Coun. John Orlikow authored a motion to request more public consultation. Their motion was debated and defeated.

Gerbasi and Orlikow authored a similar motion at the city centre community committee, which was successful, sending a request for public consultation onto the agenda for the Feb. 14 property and development committee. More than two dozen delegates signed up to speak at the meeting.

On the morning of the meeting, however, Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt moved a motion to declare the report out of order. It passed, striking the item from the agenda. All the delegates registered to speak to that motion were turned away.


Why did this happen?

ON Wednesday, city clerk Richard Kachur said the motion was out of order for two reasons. First, he said, the item was more appropriate for council’s alternate service delivery committee, which is supposed to deal with golf services under the organizational bylaw.

Later in the day, he also said the procedural bylaw prevents the same motion from being debated twice within 60 days.

However, the organizational bylaw does not prevent the property committee from hearing delegations. And the procedural bylaw does not explicitly ban similar motions at different council committees, although the spirit of the bylaw may intend that.


What happens now?

SOME time during the next six weeks, after city staff finishes reviewing the results of the expression-of-interest document, the city will send a report recommending options for redeveloping up to seven city-owned golf courses to council’s alternate service delivery committee.

After that, Mayor Sam Katz has promised public consultations. But he has declined to specify what form those consultations will take.

At the very least, redevelopment plans will be subject to public hearings and a council debate, where a two-thirds majority is required to approve any sale.

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