If it isn’t waste — and worse — at public works, what is it? Civic managers dismiss researcher’s decade of work on traffic-control branch’s baffling decisions

Just about everyone knows this scene from television and movies.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.


Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/03/2022 (386 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Just about everyone knows this scene from television and movies.

There’s a man, pants around his ankles, engaged in “the act” with a woman who is not his wife. Suddenly, the wife bursts into the room.

“Honey! It’s not what it looks like!”

It’s funny because viewers know that he is, in fact, doing exactly what it looks like.

When is that scenario not funny? When it’s performed at a city finance committee meeting.

Public works rejects mismanagement allegations

Rush hour traffic sits at a red light on Bishop Grandin Boulevard. (Mike Sudoma / Free Press files)


Winnipeg’s public works department responded publicly for the first time Thursday to allegations of financial mismanagement within the traffic signals branch at a special meeting of the city’s finance committee.

Chairman Scott Gillingham (St. James) called the session in response to the recent Free Press investigative series Red Light, Green Light, No Oversight, based on the findings of independent traffic researcher Christian Sweryda.

Public works director Jim Berezowsky disputed allegations his department has engaged in widespread patterns of financial mismanagement and wasteful construction practices dating back more than a decade.

“We believe there is an explanation for each and every Google picture,” Berezowsky said, referring to Sweryda’s research, the result of hundreds of hours spent analyzing Google Street View images and cataloguing changes to traffic infrastructure in Winnipeg.

Read full story

This week, managers from the City of Winnipeg public works department were called to defend themselves against allegations raised in a Free Press investigative series by journalist Ryan Thorpe. The series — Red Light, Green Light, No Oversight — detailed the findings of Christian Sweryda, an independent investigator who used Google Street View images to document dozens of unexplained, and seemingly unnecessary, modifications city crews made to traffic-control equipment and intersections over a decade.

The series documented, in meticulous detail, a long list of unjustified infrastructure rebuilds, the swapping out of traffic-control devices before their normal end of life and traffic-light poles repeatedly changed and moved small distances, or replaced with new ones, for no apparent reason.

And how did public works director Jim Berezowsky respond to the Free Press report?

Councillors! It’s not what it looks like!

“We believe there is an explanation for each and every Google picture,” Berezowsky told the city councillors who serve on the finance committee.

Red Light, Green Light, No Oversight

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS A traffic light on the north median (facing southbound traffic) of Osborne Street and St. Mary Avenue in Winnipeg on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022. For Ryan Thorpe story. Winnipeg Free Press 2022.


Christian Sweryda has spent hundreds of hours cataloguing and tracking the changes to intersections in Winnipeg. His findings point to financial mismanagement in the public works department.

That research is the basis of a Free Press investigative series by Ryan Thorpe: Red Light, Green Light, No Oversight.



Read full story

If that’s true, it doesn’t explain why Berezowsky and transportation manager David Patman refused numerous requests for interviews, during which the Free Press was willing to share Sweryda’s research.

Berezowsky actually complained during Thursday’s meeting that he wasn’t given a chance to respond before the series was published, ignoring the fact that he was. And if the explanations were straightforward, why wouldn’t he nip the entire oncoming scandal in the bud?

We should assume that some of the issues raised by Sweryda can, in fact, be explained. But the scope and magnitude of the things he uncovered go well beyond a few unrelated concerns into the realm of systemic concerns.

The other problem that Berezowsky and his department face is the clear need for intersection and traffic-signal improvement all over the city.

From poorly designed “black spot” intersections that regularly generate the highest number of serious collisions, to poorly marked crosswalks that put pedestrians at risk, this is a city that has simply not kept up with the desperate need for basic safety enhancements.

A subplot to the Free Press series on mismanagement at public works focused on the glacial pace at which the city was installing eye-level flashing lights at pedestrian crosswalks. The overhead lights are not just ineffective at alerting drivers, they are rather wasteful. The infrastructure to suspend the lights too high to be seen by some motorists is clearly more expensive than installing easier-to-see eye-level flashers.

Despite clear advantages in terms of both cost and safety, the city has fallen way behind in installing them. In total, 158 crosswalks need the new lights and the 2022 budget approved funding to convert a mere 15 locations this year. That is a maddeningly slow pace when you consider the very strong possibility the city has been squandering funds by unnecessarily replacing traffic lights and the poles they are attached to for reasons not yet shared with taxpayers.

And, finally, this is not the first time we’ve been assured by city managers that what we can plainly see is not what it looks like.

Almost three years ago, a Free Press report on workplace misconduct in the city’s planning, property and development department, based on the findings of a privately funded investigator, revealed some building inspectors were working an average three hours a day, and using paid work time to run personal errands and enjoy lengthy lunch and coffee breaks.

Initially, department managers denied there was a problem. When an internal audit confirmed the Free Press report, eight inspectors were fired and seven were suspended. Those same managers were forced to admit they had some inkling of problems, but did not know the full extent of the misconduct when they rushed to defend their employees.

This is not the first time we’ve been assured by city managers that what we can plainly see is not what it looks like.

In fairness, there are instances when something the public views as an obvious error of commission are really just a reflection of the challenges of the job. Snow-clearing is good case in point.

Most residents believe keeping roadways clear of ice and ruts is a simple matter of diligence. In reality, the combination of snowfall amounts, high winds and rapidly dropping temperatures can create ruts that are very difficult to scrape from streets. As such, the ruts are a reflection of our often extreme winters, and not of any particular shortcoming in city services.

In this instance, however, it’s going to be a lot harder for the public works department to fully explain the worrisome pattern that emerged in the Free Press series. If an internal audit, which is now underway, confirms there is a problem, then you can bet it will shake the entire department — maybe the entire municipal government — to its core.

Right now, the last thing that Winnipeggers need is someone at the city telling them that an obvious problem is “not what it looks like.”

It would be much better to explain why it looks that way and what’s being done about it.


Dan Lett

Dan Lett

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

Report Error Submit a Tip